Trailing Maliki cries fraud

Allawi, who served as interim prime minister from 2004-05, could still lose his narrow edge over Maliki, a Shi’ite whose law-and-order message has put him ahead in seven of 18 provinces, including the electoral prizes Baghdad and Basra.

But no matter what the final outcome, Allawi’s strong showing, particularly among minority Sunnis resentful of the dominance of Shi’ite religious parties since 2003, has broad implications for the formation of the next government and stability in the country once US troops withdraw.

Allawi’s cross-sectarian Iraqiya list is leading in five provinces, and his nationwide edge is only 9,000 votes. Trailing the front runners are the Shi’ite Iraqi National Alliance (INA) and Kurdish parties which dominate Iraq’s Kurdish north.

It is too early to say who Iraq’s next coalition government will include, and the weeks or months of charged negotiations ahead may become even more fraught if, as the close race suggests, the results are challenged by those who lose out.

Ali al-Adeeb, a close Maliki ally, said the premier’s State of Law bloc had been tipped off by election workers that votes were being manipulated in favour of a competitor he declined to name.

The bloc has asked for a recount in Baghdad, where Maliki’s lead has steadily narrowed.

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