BAGHDAD (AP) - The Iraqi prime minister's coalition has kept an edge of almost 40,000 votes ahead of his secular rival in the latest release of preliminary results from the March 7 parliamentary elections.
The latest tally shows Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki locked in a very tight race with his secular Shiite challenger, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

The partial results, released on Thursday by Iraq's election commission, were based on 89 percent of ballots counted.

Al-Maliki is winning in seven of Iraq's 18 provinces, while Allawi leads in five.

The results also include 70 percent of ballots tallied from the early voting by policemen, soldiers and hospital patients and staff.

The vote counting has been protracted, with results released piecemeal and marred by fraud accusations.
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