Prague, 11 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's Independent Election Commission said today it needs "only a few days maximum" to complete the count from the 30 January National Assembly election.
The head of the election commission, Abdul-Hussein Hendawi, told reporters in Baghdad that "the counting is in the very final stages. There are almost 3 percent of the ballots remaining for the National Assembly that are still being counted."
But Hendawi did not set a fixed deadline for announcing the final results. The election commission has repeatedly said it will take as much time as necessary to assure accuracy as the tallying takes place amid numerous charges of election irregularities.
Among those lodging complaints are Kurdish and Christian parties in northern Iraq that say thousands of their supporters were prevented by rival parties from voting. The charges are rejected by the rival parties, which accuse the same groups of ballot stuffing.
"If we want to create a unified and democratic Iraq, where chances are equal for everyone, then a Kurd has the right to present himself as a candidate just like any other Arab." -- Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi
Election officials say they are looking into all the complaints and will issue a public report on their findings. They have not said when the report will be released.
The tensions over the vote are putting strong pressure on the Election Commission to assure the ballot counting is viewed by the public as painstaking and thorough, however long it takes.
The pressure has only increased further as several parties in recent days have already begun claiming that partial results from the vote ensure they will have leadership roles in the National Assembly. The assembly will choose the next interim government and oversee the writing of Iraq's constitution.
Such political jockeying was on full display yesterday as leaders of two blocs -- the coalition headed by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and the Kurdish Unity List -- met in the northern Kurdish-administered city of Irbil.
Allawi said he respects the Iraqi Kurds' attempts to put forward one of their leaders -- Mas'ud Barzani -- as a candidate for president or prime minister.
"We consider this request as an 'Iraqi' request, in fact. Why say 'Kurdish?' If we want to create a unified and democratic Iraq, where chances are equal for everyone, then a Kurd has the right to present himself as a candidate just like any other Arab," Allawi said.
Any alliance between Allawi's bloc and the Kurdish bloc would enable them to put up fierce resistance to the powerful United Iraqi Alliance, which also hopes to fill the prime minister position.
Partial vote count results currently show the United Iraqi Alliance -- which is endorsed by preeminent Shi'a cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani -- holding a wide lead over the second-place Kurdish Unity List. Allawi's Iraqi List is in third place.
The extent to which the vote count -- and the resolution of the election complaints -- is seen by the public as credible could largely determine how much Iraqis accept the new interim government that emerges from such political squabbles.
World leaders have repeatedly called on Iraqis over the past week to have faith in the election process as the first step to building a more democratic system of government.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday that the world body -- which helped organize the election -- stands ready to help further with Iraq's transition.
"Iraq is a complicated region of the world and has had a tortured history in every sense. It also has a very diverse society," Annan said. "But I firmly believe that, with the help of the international community, such a society can use democratic institutions to build itself a stable and prosperous future."
A key challenge to the success of the election remains the extent to which Iraq's Sunni community will become engaged in building the new order.
It is still unclear how many Sunnis voted on 30 January, but in many areas of central and north-central Iraq the turnout appears to have been low. By contrast, voters flocked to the polls in the Shi'a-majority south and the Kurdish-administered north of the country.
Iraqi interim Vice President Ibrahim al-Ja'fari told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq on 9 February that parties taking part in the political process are speaking with Sunni groups to find ways to include them in the political process.
"Talks between us and the Sunnis in general, as well as with Sunni Islamic movements, are in full swing," al-Ja'fari said. "It is not just in recent days or months. We have long-standing ties and working experience with the Iraqi Islamic Party. We also have an action charter with them that dates back a decade."
The Iraqi Islamic Party is a mainstream Sunni party that withdrew from the interim government ahead of last month's elections. The party claimed that security problems in many Sunni-populated areas ensured that its supporters would stay home.
Sunni leaders have so far sent mixed signals regarding participation in the next interim government.
A key group of Sunni religious leaders, the Muslim Scholars Association, has charged that the election lacks legitimacy because it was conducted under foreign military occupation and was boycotted by some groups.
But members of the Muslim Scholars Association also have been holding postelection meetings with some parties likely to play a leading role in the next government. Those parties include the Shi'a-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a leading member of the United Iraqi Alliance.