Iraqis Wait For Official Election Results

Iraq has held its parliamentary elections, amid threats and violence aimed at keeping voters from the polls. Sunnis and Shiites alike went to the polls Sunday in defiance of insurgents who lobbed hand grenades at voters and bombed a polling station. Thirty-six were killed. Preliminary results are trickling in.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Votes in Iraq can be very precise in measuring the cost of yesterday's election. A series of explosions came as the polls opened, killing at least 38 people. Yet the election went forward. Officials contend that every polling place opened, and now preliminary results are in.

NPR's Quil Lawrence is on the line from Baghdad. And Quil, what did it feel like on the streets yesterday?

QUIL LAWRENCE: The morning started off rather shaky. We were hearing explosions, almost one a minute at some point, and it was quite disconcerting. We didn't know who would go out. We were rather hesitant to go out ourselves. We waited until we got a bit in the clear and then - and started going to polling stations, and people were out. This is the fourth election of the five since '03 that I've covered here in Iraq. And I have to say, on a personal note, I love going out on election day in Iraq because everybody comes out. It seems this moment of civility in the midst of chaos, and people were walking out, quite jubilant and very defiant. They said these explosions aren't going to keep us at home. We're not afraid, and many people told me I came out because of the explosions.

INSKEEP: Hmm. Any sense of celebration, then, today now that it's over?

LAWRENCE: Yes. People are waiting for the results now, and they're coming in slowly. It's a massive calculation that has to be undertaken, but they're waiting to see. The results aren't going to be certified for another 24 hours.

INSKEEP: Well, let's remember here, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's party was trying to maintain control of the government. That was one key question here. Do you have a sense about whether he succeeded?

LAWRENCE: He seems to have done very well. I'm talking to people all over Baghdad, as well as hearing reports from friends in the south, but it's probably not possible for him to form a government without a couple of allies. He had to make a lot of promises and compromises in the last four years, and it's not clear still if he'll be able to find the two coalition partners. He'll need at least two in order to form a government.

INSKEEP: And we'll have a better sense of that, as you said, over the next 24 hours. Now, here's another thing, Quil Lawrence. Sunni Arabs have been in this process. They've been out of this process. Sometimes they've participated. Sometimes they have not. This is the religious group that most closely was associated with Saddam Hussein in the past. Did they turn out this time?

LAWRENCE: They did. They turned out in strength. It seems like they weren't happy with their decision four years ago under threat, some of them, to stay out of the political process. And they came out in huge numbers in cities like Mosul, in Anbar Province, where Fallujah and Ramadi are. And they mostly seemed to be voting for Iyad Allawi, a former prime minister, who is actually a Shiite. But he's very secular, and he was running in the coalition with a lot of prominent Sunnis and some people that were accused of being linked to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. He seems to be the champion of the Sunnis.

So, in some ways, that shows that the elections here are cross-sectarian, all of these Sunnis voting for a Shiite. But in other ways, it seems that it's still sectarian, because all of the Sunnis seem to have voted for this particular party.

INSKEEP: So the Sunnis turned out to vote. The Shiite prime minister appears likely to keep his job, although with some difficulty. And then there's a third major group in Iraq, as you know well Quil Lawrence: the Kurds in northern Iraq. They've had a couple of leading political parties, but I understand there was a third party, almost a sort of Ross Perot, who contended in this election.

LAWRENCE: Exactly. The Change movement, led by Nawshirwan Mustafa Amin, which did really well in the regional elections they had over the summer, sort of upset the cart, and it's very much as if the Green Party had somehow grabbed 20 seats in the U.S. Congress away from Republicans and Democrats. What I'm hearing from up there against preliminary is that he didn't do as well as expected in the city of Kirkuk and the city of Sulaymaniyah, maybe not the total upset that he had hoped for, but still getting a number of seats and still remaining a political force up there. So it's maybe shaken the cart up there, but it hasn't tipped it over completely.

And my friends up there say that they think it's healthy to have another party besides their entrenched traditional two-party system, but maybe also nice not to have the thing ripped open completely.

INSKEEP: NPR's Quil Lawrence, author of a book about northern Iraq and our correspondent in Baghdad, bringing us up-to-date on yesterday's elections. Quil, thanks very much.

LAWRENCE: Thank you, Steve.

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