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Iraq awaits election results, parties claim gains

Ben Hubbard

Iraqi coalitions and political parties jockeyed Monday for position following the country's pivotal vote meant to usher in the next government, as the election commission head estimated a turnout of 55 and 60 percent.

Iraqis defied a wave of insurgent attacks that killed 36 people and voted Sunday in key balloting that will determine whether they can overcome deep sectarian divides that almost tore the nation apart. It will also usher in a new government as U.S. forces prepare to leave.

The range given by Faraj al-Haidari, who heads the Independent High Electoral Commission, is down from the previous Dec. 2005 parliamentary election turnout of 76 percent, although it's higher than last year's provincial elections when just over half of voters cast ballots.

Al-Haidari told The Associated Press the exact turnout would be released later Monday at a news conference and that the final results would come within a few days, most likely on Thursday.

Even then, the outcome will likely be followed by protracted negotiations on who will make up the next government.

No one coalition is expected to win an outright majority in the 325-seat parliament, so the coalition that gets the largest number of votes will be tasked with cobbling together a government with other partners — a process that could take months.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition said it had done well, especially in Baghdad and the south, and that the group is open to talks with anyone.

"We do not have a veto or a red line against any list, we are open to talks with all," said the coalition's Abbas al-Bayati, adding that the list had secured at least 100 of the parliament's 325 seats.

However, al-Maliki's faction may be hard-pressed to find negotiating partners after having alienated most of the other groups in the pre-election period.

Many Sunnis appeared to have thrown their weight behind former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya alliance, in a calculated political decision to support a Shiite who they thought best able to represent their needs. Allawi is fierce critic of al-Maliki who has said the government needs to do more to bring about reconciliation between the country's warring sects. His coalition included a number of high-profile Sunni candidates as well.

"We were fooled in the past and we don't want to be fooled again," said Abu Abayda Thaamir, a Sunni from Baghdad's mostly Sunni Azamiyah neighborhood, who said he had no problems voting for a Shiite candidate.

Another key player in the election, Iranian-backed Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, also known as SIIC, that is part of a broad religious Shiite coalition known as Iraqi National Alliance, appeared to have fallen behind although it could still be a kingmaker.

"We cannot make any move about forming coalitions until the results are announced," said an official with the SIIC, who spoke on condition of anonymity pending official results. But he said the INA coalition fell short of the 90-95 seats expected.

Across Iraq, people were recovering from the elections, taking down campaign posters Monday and burying those who died in the violence. Iraqi security forces lifted an all-night curfew in place to deter attacks and ease movement of ballot boxes to counting stations.

Counting the poll's complicated ballot — some 6,200 candidates competed for 325 parliamentary seats — will take time.

The election also highlighted the upcoming withdrawal of U.S. troops. Obama has pledged to withdraw all combat troops by end of August and the rest by the end of next year.

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Associated Press writers Katarina Kratovac, Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Sinan Salaheddin and Bushra Juhi contributed to this report.

The Associated Press
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