By Leila Fadel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, March 15, 2010; A07
BAGHDAD -- Buoyed by preliminary results from last week's parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is courting allies in hopes of forming a new governing coalition that will allow him to keep his job.
Maliki, a divisive figure many politicians would like to unseat, and his State of Law slate made a strong showing in Baghdad -- a key battleground with many parliamentary seats -- and the large, mostly Shiite population center of Basra, the southern gateway to Iraq's oil wealth. Maliki's slate is ahead in five other provinces among Iraq's total of 18, giving his bloc a narrow overall lead in partial returns.
Iraq's electoral commission has struggled to tally votes because of technical problems and the complicated nature of the ballot. The results so far have been too incomplete to show who will capture the most seats in parliament.
Maliki, who is a Shiite, has been talking to Kurdish officials, Sunni Arab candidates and leading figures from the Shiite coalition that once included him. The Kurdish alliance, in the past seen as a kingmaker in Iraqi politics, is leading in the northern provinces of Dahuk, Irbil and Sulaymaniyah.
Maliki's top rival, former prime minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who heads the Iraqiya slate, is attempting to woo the same political blocs. Allawi's slate has the lead in five provinces, including Nineveh, in the north, whose large population means that it controls a large number of seats. The slate also has a decisive lead in the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar, where more than half the votes have been counted, as well as a narrow lead in the mixed province of Kirkuk, a key area that the Kurds believe should be part of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
Allawi traveled over the weekend to Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, to discuss potential partnerships.
Both Maliki and Allawi have cast themselves as Iraqi nationalists willing to cross sectarian lines to save Iraq from strife when the next government has formed.
"They want a clear picture before committing themselves to any agreement with others," said Sami al-Askari, an independent Shiite legislator allied with Maliki, referring to talks that began with other coalitions this week. "This is between Maliki and Allawi -- two different groups and two different directions."
Askari, a close confidant of the prime minister, said Maliki might have the upper hand because Iran prefers him over Allawi. Iran's closest political allies in Iraq -- notably the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq -- have so far done poorly. The Iraqi National Alliance, the Shiite coalition that includes the Supreme Council, is in the lead in the southern provinces of Maysan, Qadisiyah and Dhi Qar.
Followers of the fiery cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who are also part of the Iraqi National Alliance, are expected to make the strongest showing of those in the coalition. Although they may have a strong voice in the new parliament, Askari said, Maliki does not want them in his government.
No one is expected to win a majority of seats, a development that could lead to months of negotiations before a government is formed. The political maneuvering could inflame tensions in the street, and already the delay in announcing the vote results has spurred cries of fraud.
The electoral commission said it would release more-extensive results Monday that would include at least 60 percent of ballots cast in each of Iraq's provinces. More than 6,000 politicians vied for the 325 seats in the new parliament. So far, members of Maliki's bloc believe they have won 90 to 110 seats, while supporters of Allawi believe they have taken as many as 85 seats.