Iraq May Face Months of Haggling as Leaders Say Vote Was Close
March 8, 2010 · Posted in NEWS

March 08, 2010, 8:49 AM EST

By Caroline Alexander, Daniel Williams and Kadhim Ajrash

March 8 (Bloomberg) — Iraqi political leaders said yesterday’s parliamentary election was a tight contest, a result that may mean months of haggling over the formation of a coalition government.

“Preliminary results show a very close race,” Wael Abdel Latif of the National Iraqi Alliance, a major Shiite Muslim bloc, said in an interview today in Baghdad. “The formation of the government may face big problems if the results are close and there is no clear winner.”

No official results have been released and a final vote count may take until the end of the month. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s bloc was leading in nine of the country’s 18 provinces, Agence France-Presse reported, citing unofficial estimates by local officials. It said the key results weren’t yet available for the Baghdad area, where bombings yesterday killed dozens of people.

Violence may escalate if the vote doesn’t produce a coalition that includes the country’s main ethnic and religious groups, the majority Shiites and the minority Sunni Muslims and the Kurds. That would thwart U.S. ambitions to leave a stable Iraq as it withdraws its troops.

The vote was the second since Saddam Hussein’s overthrow by U.S. forces in 2003. More than 6,200 candidates were competing for seats in the 325-member legislature.

Initial figures on turnout in the election, which was contested by 86 political blocs, are expected today. Sixty percent of voters may have taken part, and there were no complaints of major irregularities, Amal Bairaqdar, a member of the Independent High Electoral Commission, said in an interview. The panel put the 2005 turnout at 76 percent.

Too Early

It’s too early to be talking about winners, Karim al- Tamimi, a member of the electoral commission, said in an interview today on state-run al-Iraqiya television.

Preliminary election results may be released in two or three days, Faraj al-Haidari, head of the commission, said today in a televised interview from Baghdad.

“We need about two months to form a majority government,” Abbas al-Bayati, a member of al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition, said today in an interview in Baghdad. “We want a majority government that will include all the components of the nation.”

At least 36 people died in yesterday’s attacks, most in Baghdad, the Associated Press said. Iraqi affiliates of al-Qaeda had vowed to attack voters on their way to the polls. The cities of Fallujah, Baquba and Samarra were also struck, AFP reported.

Voter Registration

Voter registration was the biggest problem for Iraqis, not security, said Ranj Alaaldin, a Middle East expert from the London School of Economics who monitored the election with the London-based Next Century Foundation, a conflict resolution advisory group. Some voters found that their names weren’t on the official registry, he said by e-mail.

The ruling coalition that emerges will have to resolve disputes over the sharing of oil revenue among regions, the borders of the Kurdish autonomous region in the north and whether it encompasses the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and the volatile relations between Shiites and Sunnis.

Iraq’s 115 billion-barrel oil reserves place it third behind Saudi Arabia and Iran. The country pumped about 2.4 million barrels a day last month, according to Bloomberg estimates.

Contracts awarded to foreign companies in two auctions last year pay a per-barrel fee for development work rather than granting a share in the production itself.

A group led by BP Plc, which vies with Royal Dutch Shell Plc as Europe’s largest oil company, will receive $2 billion per year in fees to develop the Rumaila field in southern Iraq. A Shell-led group will get $913 million and a group led by Exxon, the largest U.S. oil company, will receive $1.6 billion per year.

‘Important Milestone’

President Barack Obama called the election “an important milestone” and congratulated the Iraqis yesterday for not succumbing to intimidation. “I have great respect for the millions of Iraqis who refused to be deterred by acts of violence, and who exercised their right to vote,” he said in a statement issued by the White House.

The violence in Iraq is “episodic, lethal, but ultimately incapable of derailing the political process,” said Reidar Visser, an Iraq analyst at the Olso-based Norwegian Institute for International Affairs. “The more fundamental question relates to the quality of the political process” and Iraq’s transformation to democracy which “remains highly tentative.”

Iraqi Forces

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, had reported that the Iraq Security Forces “performed superbly, and the turnout is as high, if not higher, than earlier expectations. So all in all a good day for the Iraqis and for all of us,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters traveling on his military plane.

Al-Maliki predicted last week that no party would win a majority. A Shiite alliance that brought him to power in 2005 has disintegrated and his coalition was in a contest for Shiite votes with former Shiite allies now in the National Iraqi Alliance.

Iraq’s Kurds, who backed al-Maliki after the last election, have since feuded with him over sharing oil revenue and control of Kirkuk. The main Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, formed an alliance that was challenged by a new party called Change.

Sunni, who boycotted the 2005 election, were wooed by an array of Islamic parties, while former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is leading the Iraqiya party, which advocates non- sectarian politics.

‘Anxiety’ for U.S.

The results may not be formally certified until the end of March. It could then take up to six months, or longer, before a government emerges, according to a March 3 report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“The inevitable delays before the next Iraqi government forms will cause understandable anxiety within the Obama administration as it contemplates the appropriate speed for U.S. withdrawal,” the institute said.

The U.S. is pulling its troops out of Iraq and has handed most security duties to Iraqi forces. Under a schedule set last year by Obama, U.S. troop strength will shrink from 96,000 to 50,000 by Sept. 1. All American forces are due to be withdrawn by the end of 2011.

Over the past few months, violence has been periodic in Iraq, with deadly, sometimes multiple attacks separated by days of relative calm. American officials insist the pullout will go ahead and Iraqi officials say they are taking over.

–With assistance from Viola Gienger aboard a U.S. military aircraft, and Henry Meyer and Nayla Razzouk in Dubai. Editors: Peter Hirschberg, Heather Langan

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Williams in Cairo at; Caroline Alexander in London at; Kadhim Ajrash in Baghdad through the Dubai newsroom or