Early Election Results Show Iraqi PM's Bloc Ahead

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The preliminary results Thursday in Iraq's elections showed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's bloc doing well, but not well enough to form a government without outside support. But Maliki's closest opponents, from the secular bloc of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, have already started claiming fraud.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Five days after the polls closed in Iraq's general elections, the first preliminary results were released today and they confirmed what many had predicted. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appears to have done well, but not well enough to form a government without convincing a few of his opponents to join with him.

And as NPR's Baghdad correspondent Quil Lawrence reports, that won't be easy. Maliki's closest opponents from the secular bloc of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi have already started claiming fraud.

QUIL LAWRENCE: About 12 million ballots are being counted and then entered into two separate computer systems in a building deep inside Baghdad's green zone. Almost two days later than expected, Iraq's electoral commission announced results in only five of the 18 provinces based on less than 30 percent of the votes from those provinces. One was a Kurdish province that predictably went for the dominant Kurdish slate. Two were majority Shia provinces where Prime Minister Maliki has a clear lead. Another two have Sunni Arab majorities and tipped for Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite. The electoral commission had complained of technical difficulties, but today their troubles increased.

Mr. ADNAN AL-JANABI (Electoral Candidate): (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Shaking his sheaf of papers, Adnan al-Janabi, a candidate running on Allawi's slate, read out a laundry list of fraud allegations before the news media. Ballots for Allawi were found in trash cans, he said, and election officials had been manipulating the numbers.

Mr. AL-JANABI: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Janabi also alleged that a close adviser to Prime Minister Maliki had been seen inside a restricted area of the electoral commission. It wasn't just the Sunnis complaining. A coalition of religious Shia parties also made allegations today demanding access to the software that the commission is using to tabulate the votes.

International observers had pronounced the election free of major irregularities. Today's allegations may be the opening gambits in post-election posturing even if they threaten the legitimacy of the entire process. It goes to show that a peaceful outcome may be more important than going strictly by the numbers, says Ibrahim Sumadai(ph), an independent secular candidate.

Mr. IBRAHIM SUMADAI (Independent Secular Candidate, Iraq): I think the most important thing now is the result have to be acceptable for the winner and the loser.

LAWRENCE: The presumed winner, Prime Minister Maliki, has already been wooing some of his rivals, beginning with the Kurdish bloc, who may have won almost a fifth of the seats in Parliament, but Maliki will have to make a pitch to at least one other group and perhaps to all of the blocs.

Mr. QASIM DAWOOD (Shia Candidate): Any exclusion of any of these blocs really won't help the united Iraq.

LAWRENCE: Qasim Dawood is a candidate with the Shia religious coalition. He says that he accepts that Maliki has probably won the most votes, but if the three remaining groups unite, they could block Maliki. Either way, every faction has its own list of concessions and demands, and that means a long summer of brinksmanship, says Dawood.

Mr. DAWOOD: I already informed some of my friends, especially the diplomats, my expectation that probably the government will form on September, because the process is very complicated.

LAWRENCE: Dawood says he hopes the government can be formed quickly to avoid a dangerous power vacuum, especially since U.S. troops are expected to begin rapidly deploying from Iraq.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.

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