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Thread: Iraqi PM leads in early Baghdad Vote

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    Iraqi PM leads in early Baghdad Vote

    BAGHDAD A coalition led by Iraq's prime minister held a comfortable lead Saturday in the crucial contest for the nation's capital, bolstering his chances in an election deciding who will lead the country as U.S. forces go home.

    The province that includes Baghdad accounts for almost a fifth of parliament's 325 seats and would go a long way toward deciding who will be tasked with forming a government that will need to see the country through a tumultuous time as it tries to overcome its sectarian divisions.

    Al-Maliki has been ahead in partial results that have been trickling out from the Independent High Electoral Commission since the parliamentary vote a week ago.

    But his rivals also showed new gains on Saturday. So far, al-Maliki's State of Law coalition was ahead in five provinces, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's secular Iraqiya bloc was ahead in three and the Iran-backed Shiite Iraqi National Alliance in two. Mainstream Kurdish parties also maintained their hold on Irbil province in their self-rule northern region, leaving seven provinces in the balance.

    With no group poised to gain an outright majority, al-Maliki and Allawi each began reaching out to other groups to start what are expected to be protracted negotiations to pick a leader and cobble together a new government.

    Al-Maliki's government would remain in a caretaker position but such political disarray has proved deadly in the past. The nearly six months of wrangling it took to form a government after the December 2005 vote was when the insurgency exploded.

    The Iraqi prime minister's bloc has formed a committee to reach out to other blocs and already begun meeting with other blocs in early efforts to form a coalition government, aides have said a sign of his growing confidence following initial results.

    Allawi also traveled Saturday to Irbil to meet with Kurdish President Massoud Barzani. The Kurds, who are known for their political unity, are expected to be a crucial bloc to any prospective coalition and their leaders will likely be courted extensively by all sides.

    "We are having talks with all political parties to reach a joint vision in the field of wide cooperation between political trends to take Iraq to the shores of continuity and safety," Allawi said.

    Results, meanwhile, continued to pile up for al-Maliki's coalition.

    With 18 percent of the ballots counted in Baghdad province, the group had almost 159,000 votes, followed by the Iran-backed Shiite religious grouping the Iraqi National Alliance with about 108,000 and Allawi's Iraqiya coalition with about 105,000.

    The capital has 70 parliament seats, although two are set aside for Christians and other minorities.

    It was not clear which of the capital's neighborhoods were included in the count and whether the results were coming from across Baghdad, from the Shiite-dominated eastern part of the city or the Sunni-dominated western neighborhoods.

    Al-Maliki's team was quick to capitalize on the news, saying it reflected the prime minister's efforts to return the city to normalcy a reference to his role in U.S.-backed crackdowns that contributed to a sharp decline in violence.

    "Baghdad residents showed their gratitude to al-Maliki," said State of Law candidate Haider al-Ibadi.

    Maysoun al-Damlouji, a candidate from the rival Iraqiya list, however, complained that more details about the Baghdad ballots were not released.

    "These figures are very preliminary ones and do not conform with ours and they are not even saying which parts of Baghdad they're from," she said. "We've asked (the election commission) to announce all the results at one time, not to let them trickle out."

    Election officials also announced Saturday that the prime minister's coalition was leading in his native Karbala province, a major Shiite pilgrimage destination, although only 10 percent of the votes had been tallied.

    The Iraqi National Alliance, which comprises longtime Shiite power broker the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and followers of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, was ahead in the southern Qadisiyah province, according to the partial results released Saturday, while Allawi's Iraqiya was leading in the volatile Ninevah province.

    The March 7 election for a 325-seat parliament ballot was hailed as successful by U.S. and U.N. officials after 62 percent of Iraq's voters turned out despite a series of attacks that killed nearly 40 people, most in Baghdad. But it has been marred by confusion over the counting process and fraud allegations.

    Election officials said they've received more than 2,000 complaints as of Saturday but gave no specifics. Individual parties, led by Allawi's group, have complained of discarded ballots and the failure of some provincial ballot boxes to be delivered to the counting center in Baghdad.

    Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission has struggled to release the election results in an organized fashion, and Saturday's tally was no exception.

    The Baghdad and Karbala counts were both posted on screens at the electoral commission's Baghdad headquarters, and then pulled minutes later. After the tallies were removed from the screens, a quarrel immediately broke out between election officials before a commission spokeswoman, Gulshan Kamal Ali, confirmed the results were accurate.

    Members of the election commission later went into a lengthy meeting and were not available for comment

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