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Secularists fare best in Iraq

Allawi coalition ekes out narrow plurality of seats

Ayad Allawi speaks to his supporters after Iraqi election results were released Friday.  (Associated Press)
Ayad Allawi speaks to his supporters after Iraqi election results were released Friday. (Associated Press)
Ned Parker And Caesar Ahmed Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD – A secular rival edged Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite alliance in final election results announced Friday, but instead of deciding who will govern Iraq as tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers head home, the virtual dead heat set up a test of raw power in the courts, in parliament – and on the streets.

Despite declarations from U.S. and United Nations officials that the elections had been fair, al-Maliki said he would go to court to demand a manual recount in parts of Baghdad and northern Iraq. His State of Law coalition, which won 89 seats, also pledged to bar some members of the rival Iraqiya list from parliament who have been accused of having been members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.

Final results gave Iraqiya, led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, 91 seats in the 325-member parliament.

“We have our suspicions,” al-Maliki said. “Let us recheck so there will be a peaceful exchange of power.”

Even before the final results were announced, some al-Maliki supporters had lashed out at the electoral commission and accused the CIA and State Department of planning to topple al-Maliki in favor of Allawi. Candidates from al-Maliki’s coalition spoke darkly of Shiite-dominated southern provinces loosening their ties to Baghdad if Allawi became prime minister.

The charges of fraud drew strong rebukes from the U.N.’s special representative in Iraq, Ad Melkert. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and the U.S. military commander, Gen. Ray T. Odierno, issued a joint statement calling the elections fair and demanding parties stop casting doubt on the results.

As the results were being announced, a double bombing in a popular outdoor market killed 42 people and wounded 65 others in Khallis in Diyala province, a reminder of Iraq’s capacity for violence.

In Baghdad, the struggle for power has now broken down largely along traditional lines of division between Iraq’s Shiite majority and Sunni minority, which had prospered under Saddam Hussein. Al-Maliki, who broke away from Iraq’s Shiite coalition last summer, has not gone back to courting onetime allies. He appears to have given up on the idea of transcending sectarian politics.

During his four years as prime minister, al-Maliki alienated many Shiite rivals. But whether with him or another candidate, Kurds and Shiites appear intent on finding a way to form the next government.

Such an alliance of Iraq’s Shiite parties and Kurds, with an addition of a few smaller Sunni groups, would be virtually identical to the coalition that has governed Iraq since its first post-Saddam election in 2005 and that presided over the country’s previous descent into civil war.

Allawi’s coalition is made up of secular Sunnis and Shiites. Many feared that it merely served as a front for the return of Saddam’s Baath party, which repressed Kurds and Shiites.

A senior Iraqiya member acknowledged that Allawi, who served as prime minister in 2004 and early 2005, could be shut out of power unless he was able to offer firm guarantees to the Kurds and al-Maliki’s Shiite competitors that he would share power and place real limits on political figures they oppose. Iraqiya has already begun talks with the largely Shiite Iraqi National Alliance, which won 70 seats. Kurdish parties won 57 seats.

Allawi’s chances pivot on whether al-Maliki’s behavior so alienated other Shiites and the Kurds that they would be willing to strike a bargain with Iraqiya.

The power struggle will play out as U.S. troops accelerate their departure. By the end of August, the number should be down to 50,000 from the current 95,000. At their peak, there were 168,000 U.S. troops in the country.

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