RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And in Iraq, the long wait for parliamentary elections is over and now the long wait for the results begin. Officials in Baghdad have announced only the turnout so far: 62 percent. Fairly impressive, considering the morning of election day was filled with explosions, and though there are already claims of victory, the Iraqi Electoral Commission is not expecting full results until later this week, which is when the real waiting begins.
NPR's Quil Lawrence explains from Baghdad.
QUIL LAWRENCE: Even without full results, it's easy to see the election is over in Baghdad. The billboards that covered every building, gate, and roadside in the country are gone as quickly as they appeared.
(Soundbite of ripping metal)
LAWRENCE: Haider Abdul Hussain(ph) is ripping a metal placard off a telephone pole near the riverbank. He works for the political party of sitting prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, and he's carefully removing the pictures of his boss.
Mr. HAIDER ABDUL HUSSAIN: (Foreign language spoken)
LAWRENCE: He jokes that Maliki will need them when he runs again in the next election. Parties will be fined if they don't clean up their billboards within three days, says Hussain, but there's not much of a problem getting rid of them. The metal signs are worth $5 per square meter. That's plenty of money here.
Mr. HUSSAIN: (Through translator) Looters took them the minute the polls closed, or even sooner. All that's left are the ones that were too high for them to pull down.
LAWRENCE: Hussein and his brother fold up their ladder and stack it in their pickup truck to clean up the next spot, a neat conclusion to the campaigning. The process, from voting to forming a new government, does not promise to be as tidy.
Mr. FARAJ EL-HAIDARI (High Commission for Elections): All of them will want to win. (Unintelligible) We must have anyone who - all of them will want to win.
LAWRENCE: Faraj el-Haidari is the head of Iraq's high commission for elections. For the next week or two he's got one of the hardest jobs in Iraq. Already, political parties have been deluging his office with calls, perhaps trying to position themselves to cry foul if they don't get the numbers they need, says Haidari.
Mr. HAIDARI: This one said they prevent my people to vote in this area. The other one said they prevent my people in this (unintelligible) area.
LAWRENCE: But Haidari knows it could get very serious very soon. As the hard numbers start coming in, there will be losers, and everyone is wondering if some of the political parties - many of which still have armed wings - will be willing to hand over power gracefully when the moment comes.
That moment is still a while off. Even parties that didn't win big on Sunday have a chance to hold onto government positions, depending on how the coalition building goes. During that process, there may also be some actors who will try to exploit the political limbo. It's telling that the gradual troop drawdown that has seen 35,000 U.S. soldiers quietly leave since late last year is now pausing.
General Ray Odierno commands U.S. forces in Iraq.
General RAY ODIERNO (Commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq): Right now we're about 96,000 and we will stay at about this through the end of May, and then draw down to 50,000 by the first of September. Everything's on track for that to happen, and unless there's a catastrophic event, we don't see that changing.
LAWRENCE: Late May is a common estimate for the earliest date that Iraq might seat a new government. But in the past, Iraqi politicians have usually finished bargaining weeks or even months after the declared deadlines.
Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.
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