Coalition led by Maliki ahead in poll

Early estimates from a range of Iraqi parties yesterday predicted a coalition led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would take the lead in the parliamentary election, though official results are not expected for a few days. A win by Mr Maliki could signal Iraqis' rejection of the religious parties that have dominated the country since 2003.

Sunday's election, which took place against a backdrop of violence in Baghdad, marked a turning point for the country's nascent democracy. The winner will help determine whether Iraq can resolve its sectarian divisions and preserve the nation's fragile security as US troops leave.

Initial results for some provinces, as well as for Baghdad — an area essential to determining any winner — were to be announced Tuesday.

The election was only the country's second for a full parliamentary term, and it attracted 62 percent of about 19 million eligible voters, according to the nation's election commission. The last such election, in December 2005, attracted roughly 76 percent of eligible voters.

Officials attributed the lower turnout to a combination of voter intimidation, more stringent ID requirements at the polls and a drop in voter excitement. A spate of attacks on election day — some directly targeting voters and polling stations — killed 36 people.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, called the election a milestone and said that every sign suggests Iraq will be able to peacefully form a new government in the coming months, and U.S. combat troops can head home by the end of August.

Most of the roughly 96,000 troops in Iraq will remain here through May, when the military will begin scaling down to 50,000 noncombat troops by the Obama administration's self-imposed deadline at the start of September, Odierno said.

The timetable calls for all troops to be out by the end of 2011.

"Unless there's a catastrophic event, we don't see that changing," Odierno said.

With ballots still being counted, officials from both the State of Law coalition led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the rival Iraqiya claimed to be leading. Iraqiya is a secular alliance led by Shiite former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, but it also contains many Sunnis.

Abbas al-Bayati from al-Maliki's coalition said early information from the coalition's representatives showed the group did well in Baghdad and in the Shiite south, which includes Iraq's second-largest city, Basra.

"We think that the State of Law coalition will shoulder the task of forming the next government," he said.

But Iraqiya conceded no ground, saying the group had done well in areas such as Anbar, Diyala and Ninewah, which is home to Iraq's third-largest city. Iraqiya appeared to cash in on the votes of Sunnis who see Allawi as a Shiite who can represent their interests but is not beholden to neighboring Iran.

"We expect that we are first in Iraq," said Raheem al-Shimmari, an Iraqiya official.

An official from a competing Shiite party opposing al-Maliki said the State of Law coalition appeared to be in the lead. The official spoke on the condition that he not be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Officials from various political parties were present during the regional vote counts and acknowledged that al-Maliki appeared to have done the best. All of them spoke on condition of anonymity because the vote count was a delicate matter.

A win for al-Maliki or secular rival Iraqiya could indicate Iraqis' frustration with religious parties who have been the dominant political force since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Religious parties have angered many voters in the Shiite south for their perceived inability to improve government services such as electricity, and many Iraqis are generally weary of the sectarian tensions that have persisted for so long.

Al-Maliki, the compromise choice for the prime minister's office in 2006, used to be aligned with the Shiite parties but in recent years has tried to establish himself as a nonsectarian nationalist who was able to provide security.

But no one party appeared to have an overwhelming majority, meaning that the winner will have to build a coalition government. Finding political partners may be a tough task for al-Maliki, a man who has created many political enemies during his nearly four years in office.

Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group, said if al-Maliki were to come out ahead, he would be hard-pressed to build a coalition.

"Al-Maliki still needs to build up a large coalition, which will take a long time. He will have to make a lot of deals," he said. "But I doubt that as a result he will remain as prime minister. Most of the people he has to deal with don't want him."

Many Shiites are angry at al-Maliki for fracturing the Shiite vote by going on his own. And supporters of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who heads one of the main Shiite blocs, are still angry at al-Maliki for routing Sadrist militias in the oil-rich city of Basra.

Adding to the multiple number of outcomes is the fact that individual candidates on lists can easily leave their coalitions — some cobbled together before the elections with little deep political conviction — to join another group, Hiltermann said.

Key to any political coalition will be Kurdish support, Hiltermann said. Because the Kurds are generally unified and will probably have a significant number of seats, they can help determine who runs the country when they throw their weight behind a candidate.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor