Iraqis wait for election results

The results of Iraq's pivotal parliamentary elections will be released within days, the head of the country's election commission said Monday.
Employees of the Independent High Electoral Commission tally votes at a counting station in Baghdad. ((Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters))
The results of Iraq's pivotal parliamentary elections will be released within days, the head of the country's election commission said Monday.

The announcement came a day after Iraqis defied a wave of insurgent attacks and voted in key balloting that will determine whether they can overcome deep sectarian divides that almost tore the nation apart.

It will also usher in a new government as U.S. forces prepare to leave.

At least 36 people died on election day, as rockets and mortars rained down on parts of Baghdad.

Faraj al-Haidari told The Associated Press on Monday the vote's preliminary results would be released within two or three days, most likely on Thursday.

He said between 55 and 60 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the election, adding that more precise figures would be released later Monday.

Curfew lifted

Across Iraq, people were recovering from the elections, taking down campaign posters and burying those who died in the violence.

Iraqi security forces lifted an all-night curfew in place to deter attacks and ease movement of ballot boxes to counting stations.

The elections, however, will not spell an immediate end to political uncertainty. The fractured nature of Iraqi politics means it could take months of political wrangling by various groups to form the new government.

Many observers estimated the turnout at between 50 and 60 per cent, less than the 70 per cent seen in the previous, December 2005 nationwide elections.

A number of parties announced their own preliminary results, but Iraq's election commission has warned against speculating on the outcome. Counting the poll's complicated ballot — some 6,200 candidates competed for 325 parliamentary seats — will take time.

U.S. praises vote

U.S. officials praised the vote, some playing down the violence and praising the U.S-trained Iraqi security forces.

"We mourn the tragic loss of life today, and honour the courage and resilience of the Iraqi people who once again defied threats to advance their democracy," U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement.

The election also highlighted the upcoming withdrawal of U.S. troops. Obama has pledged to withdraw all combat troops by the end of August and the rest by the end of next year.

No one coalition is expected to win an outright majority in the 325-seat parliament, so the coalition that gets the largest number of votes will be tasked with cobbling together a government with other partners.

Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who campaigned as the head of his State of Law Coalition as the best candidate to ensure security, faced a double challenge at the polls.

On one side there was a coalition of Shia religious parties, including one led by the popular anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who didn't run himself.

On the other side, al-Maliki was challenged by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shia, whose nonsectarian stance and criticism of the current government has won him both Shia and Sunni supporters.

The two Kurdish parties, KDP and PUK, have been known for their political unity and are thought to be key to forming any government. But even their dominance has been challenged by an upstart party called "Gorran," potentially weakening the Kurdish front.

The Associated Press