Iraq's election commission has published the first preliminary results from the March 7 parliamentary elections, and results from five provinces were in line with expectations.
But they did not include Baghdad and other hard-to-predict areas that could play a key role in Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s bid to remain in power.
The early results show al-Maliki's State of Law coalition ahead in the largely Shi'ite south, followed by the Iraq National Alliance. Maliki's coalition brings together his Al-Dawah party and Shi'ite Kurds, plus a sprinkling of Sunni tribal leaders, some Christians and independents.
The Iraqi National Alliance is led by two Shi'ite religious parties, namely the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the grouping around radical Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr. The National Alliance is pro-Iranian.
Results showed the secularist party Al-Iraqiyah, which is led by former prime minister Iyad Allawi, making a good showing among Iraq's Sunni minority.
Late on March 11 Iraqiya complained that serious violations had taken place, including that some of its votes had been removed from boxes, thrown in the garbage and replaced by other ballots.
"Insistence in manipulating these elections forces us to question whether the possibility of fraudulent results would make the final results worthless," the party said. "We will not stand by with our arms crossed."
Results from across Iraq's 18 provinces were delayed again and Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) said it would release remaining early results as they become available. Final results may take weeks.
The vote counts made public so far represented only a small fraction of about 12 million votes cast and are considered too narrow a sample to indicate the likely outcome of the national elections.
The early figures do appear to confirm, however, that no one party or grouping will have the numbers to form a government on its own.
Even before the figures were released, reports from Baghdad said that the leaders or representatives of the various factions were meeting to sound out possibilities for alliance-building.
Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi has called in an Internet statement for "extensive and sincere efforts by all political blocs to form a real national unity government." He said the next government must deliver security, services and better relations with neighboring countries.
The March 7 vote was only the country's second parliamentary election since the adoption of a new constitution after the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime seven years ago, following the U.S.-led invasion.
The top United Nations envoy in Iraq, special representative Ad Melkert, has praised the conduct of the election. In remarks on March 10 at the election commission, Melkert called the counting of votes "honest" and said the world has been "impressed" by the professional way the vote took place.
But some of the contesting parties nevertheless are suspicious. A spokeswoman for Allawi's Al-Iraqiyah bloc, Maysun Damaluji, has been quoted by Reuters as saying her party fears the count is not being conducted in a "proper fashion." She did not explain how, and she stopped short of alleging fraud, but said that the results could be "modified" by the improper counting methods.
The same agency quoted Adnan al-Janabi, a senior Al-Iraqiyah member, as telling reporters that "We have recorded dozens of violations and there is interference from some officials."
The Iraqi National Alliance likewise complained of what it called "signs of intentions to change the election results." It did not specify these signs. Both parties urged the electoral commission to put the tally sheets of each province on the commission's website so that candidates and parties can count their votes manually.
Complete provisional results are expected to be announced by next week, and the final official results by the end of March. Individuals or parties will be able to lodge appeals before the final results are announced.
A successful, valid election has been viewed as an essential building block for Iraq's further development as a unified democratic state.
Time is short for a new government to settle-in and shoulder the responsibility for domestic security through Iraq's own security forces.
The United States plans to withdraw all its combat troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.
compiled from agency reports