By Ernesto Londoño and Leila Fadel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 12, 2010; 2:17 PM
BAGHDAD -- Preliminary results from Iraq's March 7 parliamentary elections continued to trickle in Friday amid continued allegations of fraud and misconduct, but it remained unclear who had won a plurality of votes across the country.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's slate is leading in three of the provinces that have reported early results, all of which are located south of Baghdad in Shiite strongholds. A rival coalition, the secular Iraqiya list led by former prime minister Ayad Allawi, made a strong showing in two northern provinces and is likely to become an influential force in the next government. The Iraqi National Alliance, a coalition of mostly Shiite parties, is leading in one southern province, according to partial results released Friday, and is running a strong second in the provinces where Maliki is ahead.
But the results are far from conclusive because they do not include Baghdad, which has the most seats in parliament, and other key areas. So far, seven of Iraq's 18 provinces have reported preliminary results. Iraq's electoral commission said it does not expect that all 18 will have results by Monday.
As the country waits to see who will lead as U.S. troops end their combat role in Iraq, critics of Maliki are continuing to raise concerns about possible fraud and complaints about disqualified candidates.. The tenor of the fraud accusations suggests that, regardless of the final vote tallies, the government formation process will be protracted and acrimonious.
In Iraq's system, voters elect lawmakers who then form a parliamentary coalition and appoint a prime minister.
Iraqiya leaders held a news conference Thursday at which they presented what they called evidence of fraud on election day and suggested that Maliki's team might be trying to influence Iraq's electoral commission as votes are being counted. "We feel there were a number of attempts to change the outcome," said Falah al-Naqib of Iraqiya. "The government is putting a lot of pressure on the commission."
With more than 30 percent of the vote tallied in the southern provinces of Najaf and Babil, Maliki appeared to carve out a narrow victory over the Iraqi National Alliance. He was part of that coalition when he was elected to parliament in 2005, but he later built his own faction. In Babil, Maliki's State of Law slate won nearly 42 percent of the more than 160,000 votes tallied so far, officials said. In Najaf, the slate won 47 percent of more than 116,000 votes counted. In both provinces, the alliance placed second, while Iraqiya was running third.
Maliki's slate is also leading the alliance 15,000 votes to 11,000 votes in Muthanna province. But those tallies were based on only 18 percent of votes cast. Muthanna is a southern province that borders Saudi Arabia.
In Diyala province, north of Baghdad, Iraqiya was ahead with more than 42,000 votes of the 17 percent of ballots tallied. The coalition was also winning in Salahuddin province, with more than 34,000 votes of the 17 percent counted so far. In Irbil, a province in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, the area's two ruling parties got more than 96,000 votes. With nearly 28 percent of votes tallied, the breakaway Change party was a distant second, with just over 20,000 votes.
But in the southern province of Maysan, the alliance -- a coalition of mostly Shiite religious parties including followers of fiery cleric Muqtada al Sadr -- was in the lead, according to a count of 23 percent of the votes. The alliance took nearly 30,000 of the votes and Maliki's State of Law party was in second with nearly 23,000 votes. It was the alliance's strongest showing so far.
Allawi's bloc, which garnered only 3,201 votes in the early tally in Maysan, is expected to accumulate most of its votes in Baghdad, and in Sunni and religiously mixed provinces. Allawi is not expected to make a strong showing in the Shiite south.
Officials had initially said they would release results from 30 percent of the nationwide vote on Wednesday.
Adding to the intrigue, Maliki's office said the prime minister had recently undergone surgery of an undisclosed nature. Maliki was released from the hospital in "good health," his office said. It did not say when the surgery took place.
Special correspondent Qais Mizher contributed to this report.