NOAH ADAMS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Noah Adams.
Iraq has entered perhaps its most uncertain period since the U.S.-led invasion. The results of parliamentary elections were announced on Friday and the political bloc of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi narrowly defeated the bloc of current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The tally: 91 seats to 89 seats.
The two-seat difference was too narrow for Maliki, who has denounced the elections. And with those results this weekend, came a rash of bombings, one apparently targeting a political ally of Allawi. All this as the U.S. military continues its drawdown to just 50,000 troops by the first of September.
Earlier today, I spoke with U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill who's in Baghdad. I asked if he's worried about the recent violence.
Ambassador CHRISTOPHER HILL (U.S. Ambassador, Iraq): Well, of course, we always are concerned about violence, although I would take issue with the notion that it has spiked up or something. I mean, these are pretty much long-term trends here of recent months. And, you know, overall violence is much less here than it was a year ago.
But certainly, what we dont want is the situation where the period of government formation drags on and on and on, or if they tried to form a government where some people felt left out. Obviously it's a tough time but it's also, I think, a very hopeful time because if the Iraqis can get through this election and form a government, they can maybe get on with their future.
ADAMS: Remind us of the timeline now. What has to happen logistically? Very close voting here. The winner, Mr. Allawi, has to put together a government within how much time?
Ambassador HILL: Well, in fact, what will happen is, first of all, we have to see whether these figures are made final and so this has to go to their supreme court. I would think that would be at some point in, say, mid-April. And then two weeks later, they would call the parliament and then we would actually see what we have in the parliament.
It's not to be excluded that there could be some slight changes and that you would end up with a situation where Maliki actually has the plurality, rather than Mr. Allawi's parties.
ADAMS: Now, the current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, he's just not happy at all. He wants a manual recount. He's putting a lot of pressure on the election officials. He said, no way will we accept the results, he said that flatly. And he likes to remind people that he is, indeed, the commander-in-chief.
If you're an Iraqi citizen, aren't you figuring he's going to take this election any way he can?
Ambassador HILL: Well, I think, you know, anyone who's lost an election by 0.045 percent probably is feeling a little grouchy that day. And so I think Mr. Maliki was probably not very happy to see those results. On the other hand, he has made clear that what's necessary is that everybody needs to follow the law, including himself. But, you know, he's going to challenge some of the results, I think as any candidate would.
And the key thing here is not that he doesnt have a right to challenge results in specific areas, but he needs to do it lawfully according to the procedures.
ADAMS: In your scenario that you're scheduling out on your calendar, do you see a new parliamentary government in place by which month is summer?
Ambassador HILL: Oh, I dont like to make predictions but I think it's important that they get it right. You know, obviously we'd all like it to happen yesterday but it's not going to happen yesterday. It's going to take several weeks and more likely it's going to take several months.
ADAMS: I mentioned the scheduled drawdown of U.S. troops by the end this summer - half of the force there now. If election-related violence continues and intensifies throughout the country, can the Iraqi security forces handle that?
Ambassador HILL: Well, the Iraqi security forces in fact have been handling security for some time. You know, ever since June 30th, the U.S. forces have been out of the cities, towns, and localities. Certainly based on what we've seen to date, I dont think there is any concern about us meeting our timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces down to 50,000 by the end of August, and eventually down to zero by the end of 2011.
ADAMS: Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. He talked with us from Baghdad. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.
Ambassador HILL: Thank you.
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