First ballot counts show Iraq PM in the lead
Preliminary ballot counts show outgoing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s bloc in the lead in Iraq's parliamentary election. It has strengthened its hold on the key Baghdad province. Maliki's success in the capital adds to his lead in seven provinces and boosts his bid to remain in power.
With 60 per cent of ballots counted in Baghdad, al-Maliki’s State of Law Alliance bloc holds a 65,000-vote lead over the Iraqiya bloc of his main rival, secular ex-premier Iyad Allawi.
Baghdad province is key because it accounts for more than twice as many seats as any other province.
With two-thirds of votes counted nationwide, al-Maliki is leading in seven provinces, including oil-rich Basra, and Allawi in five. A distant third is the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), a coalition of Shia-Muslim religious groups.
But the figures mean that rival political groupings could still manage to form a coalition government. Intisar Allawi, a senior Iraqiya candidate, said on Monday that talks between her bloc and INA and the main Kurdish grouping had been "very good and positive".
Due to Iraq’s proportional representation system, it is unlikely that any single group could collect the 163 seats necessary to form a government on its own.
Security officials have voiced concern that a lengthy period of coalition building could provide an opportunity to insurgent groups and Al-Qaeda to further destabilise Iraq.
The election – the second since Saddam Hussein was ousted in the US-led invasion in 2003 – comes less than six months before the United States is set to withdraw its military troops from Iraq.
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