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Iraqi Elections Appear To Bring Gains For Ruling Coalition

A man looks at the preliminary election results in Baghdad.

A man looks at the preliminary election results in Baghdad.

(RFE/RL) -- The chairman of Iraq's Independent Election Commission, Faraj al-Haydari, has said preliminary official results for Iraq's provincial elections should be available by the end of this week.

But that delay has not deterred the competing political parties and journalists from already collecting anecdotal evidence of who are the big winners and who the losers in the voting.

The turnout figure is already official, having been announced by al-Haydari as "approximately 51 percent" of the 14 million eligible voters. "At the end of this week we will announce preliminary results," he added. "Final results will be announced in two or three weeks."

As to the results, correspondents and news agencies say their information suggests the State of Law alliance of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has had sweeping success, particularly in the Shi'ite south of the country.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh characterized the result as a "surprise" that not even State of Law alliance members had expected. He said no one had anticipated they could achieve so much support from the south, and he listed the second city of Iraq, Al-Basrah, as having backed the alliance, as well as Al-Nasiriyah, Samawah, and Al-Kut.

The big loser in the south appears to be the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), which has controlled most of the nine southern provinces. Reuters quoted an electoral source in Al-Basrah as saying the alliance had taken some 50 percent of the vote there, while ISCI leader Furat al-Shiraa has admitted that his movement polled only 20 percent.

In the capital Baghdad, assessments indicate that State of Law has had a victory over radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose stronghold is the area called Sadr City.

The importance of al-Maliki's win lies in the fact that his alliance includes a nationwide network of local politicians who support his goal of a strong, centralized government. It is secular, and aims to project an inclusive national unity, as opposed to the exclusive and often violence-oriented Shi'ite religious parties.

Al-Maliki has made overtures to the country's Sunni minority, who boycotted the last provincial elections in 2005 out of a sense of frustration at losing their place as a ruling class under Saddam Hussein.

It's clear that in this election, there has been strong Sunni participation -- a welcome development as Iraq builds its democracy.

But reports from the northern province of Nineveh say the apparent voting pattern there could complicate the political scene, rather than clarify it.

Nineveh and its capital Mosul remain a bastion of the Sunni-led insurgency, at a time when violence has largely been contained in most of Iraq.

Iraqi and U.S. officials have been quoted as saying the local Sunni vote swung sharply behind the new Al-Hadba party, which has courted support from former members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party.

Al-Hadba was formed with the purpose of ending Kurdish control of the provincial government, dating from the 2005 election that Sunnis boycotted, and its policies could raise tensions in the province, where Sunni Arabs are a majority over Kurds and Turkomans.

Al-Hadba is thought to have taken about two-thirds of the vote in Nineveh.

with agency reports