PM Maliki's bloc biggest winner in Iraq election

Maliki's State of Law parliamentary bloc wins 92 seats in the 328-member parliament but falls short of a majority

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Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s political coalition has emerged as the biggest winner in Iraq’s general elections, according to preliminary results announced Monday.

Maliki’s State of Law bloc won 92 seats in the 328-member parliament, said the Independent High Electoral Commission. It took the lead in 10 of 18 provinces.

The runners-up were his two main Shiite rivals: cleric Ammar al-Hakim’s Al-Muwatin bloc with 29 seats, and cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Al-Ahrar bloc with 28 seats.

The elections, held in late April, were the third since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that led to the removal of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led regime and brought the Shiite majority to power.

Although the results boost Maliki’s chances for a third term, the Shiite politician needs to secure a broader majority coalition that will get the first chance at forming a government.

Maliki will likely need the support of Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties to succeed.

However, many of them have refused to countenance another term for Maliki, who they accuse of consolidating power and causing a protracted surge in unrest.

Regardless of the final results, the cabinet formation process is expected to take months as the various parties are likely to seek an all-encompassing government package, including the selection of the president and the speaker of parliament.

Under a deal between Iraq’s communities, the prime minister is a Shiite Arab, the president a Kurd, and the parliament speaker a Sunni Arab.

The election and its aftermath come amid a year-long surge in violence that has left more than 3,500 people dead this year.

This is fuelling fears that Iraq could slip back into the all-out conflict that left tens of thousands dead in 2006 and 2007.

The election tallies were delayed for weeks due to a litany of complaints, the election commission said. The results are subject to challenge.

[With AFP and Reuters]

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