- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2010

BAGHDAD | Early estimates from a range of Iraqi parties on Monday predicted a coalition led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would take the lead in the parliamentary election, though official results were not expected for a few days.

A win by Mr. al-Maliki could signal Iraqis’ rejection of the religious parties that have dominated the country since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The prime minister has been trying to distance himself from his party’s religious roots and portray himself as more of a nationalist.

Sunday’s voting was the latest test of Iraq’s fragile democracy and will determine whether the country can overcome the deep sectarian divides that have beset it for the past seven years.

Turnout for Iraq’s second election for a full parliamentary term was 62 percent of about 19 million eligible voters, the election commission said. That is lower than the last full parliamentary election in December 2005, in which roughly 76 percent of eligible voters turned out.

Officials attributed the drop 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 on voters and polling stations — killed 36 people.

The election commission said at a press conference that initial results for some provinces as well as Baghdad — an area key to determining any winner — will be announced Tuesday. But full results are not expected for a few more days.

But officials of the various parties were present during regional vote counts after the polls closed Sunday, giving them a sense of where the race is heading.

Abbas al-Bayati from Mr. al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition said early information from the coalition’s representatives showed the coalition’s list did well in Baghdad and in the Shi’ite south. Baghdad accounts for 70 seats in parliament. But one seat is mandated as Christian and another for minorities, meaning 68 are up for grabs.

The results are likely to produce three other main blocs. Following Mr. al-Maliki’s coalition are expected to be the former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqiya alliance and the religious Shi’ite Iraqi National Alliance. It is not clear which of those two will come out ahead.

Mr. Allawi is fierce critic of Mr. al-Maliki who has said the government must do more to bring about reconciliation between the country’s warring sects.

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