Challenger Defeats Iraq's Prime Minister In Election

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he would not accept the results of Iraq's parliamentary election i

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Friday that he would not accept the results of Iraq's parliamentary election. Khalid Mohammed/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Khalid Mohammed/AP
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he would not accept the results of Iraq's parliamentary election

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Friday that he would not accept the results of Iraq's parliamentary election.

Khalid Mohammed/AP

A coalition led by secularist challenger Ayad Allawi has won the most seats in Iraq's parliamentary elections, narrowly defeating Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in results released Friday by the country's election commission. Maliki immediately said he would challenge the outcome.

Allawi's coalition took 91 seats; Maliki's State of Law bloc won 89 seats. The Iraqi Parliament has 325 seats.

In a televised news conference minutes after the results were released, Maliki said that he would not accept the final tally of votes from the March 7 election. The prime minister said he would challenge the results through the legal process.

His supporters had demanded a manual recount even before the results were announced, but the election commission said there was no basis for a recount.

Ad Melkert, a top United Nations official in Iraq, said the U.N. believes the elections were credible and urged all sides to accept the results. Those sentiments were echoed by U.S. Ambassador Christopher R. Hill and Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. military official in Iraq. Both praised what they called a "historic electoral process," and said they did not believe there was evidence of widespread fraud.

The election results were announced shortly after two bombs exploded inside a popular restaurant in Khalis, a town 50 miles north of Baghdad. At least 40 people were killed and dozens were injured, said Maj. Ghalib Al-Karkhi, the police spokesman in Diyala province. Another police official said one of the explosions was a car bomb and the other a suicide bomber.

The bombing raised concerns about increased violence as a period of extended political negotiations ensue, though there was no evidence of a spike after the election results were announced.

Since Allawi's supporters prevailed, they'll get to make the first stab at choosing the prime minister and forming the new government, which will run the country as U.S. military officials continue with plans to draw down the number of troops in Iraq. There are now about 96,000 troops in the country, and that number is scheduled to drop to 50,000 by September. All U.S. forces are slated to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.

Months of negotiations are likely to take place as Allawi forms a coalition government. The Kurds, who are expected to win in the three provinces that make up their autonomous region in the north, and the followers of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are likely to play key roles.

Maliki had tried to distance himself from his sectarian roots and portray himself as a nationalist who helped to stabilize the country after years of violence. But his support for a ban on hundreds of candidates with alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party undercut support from Sunnis, who felt it unfairly targeted their candidates.

Sunnis threw their weight behind Allawi, a secular Shiite and former interim prime minister who has built a coalition from both Islamic sects. Allawi's anti-Iran stance appeals to Sunnis wary of Tehran's influence over Iraq's Shiite-majority government.

Maliki's advisers have warned against challenging the election results for fear of violence from the country's Shiite majority. Others say there could be a risk of renewed sectarian conflict if the Sunni minority feels alienated from a coalition government.

Iraq's Supreme Court must ratify the results for them to be finalized.

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