The first election results are in from Iraq's northern Kurdish-dominated regions, moving the main Kurdish alliance into second place, but still well behind the main Shiite religious coalition. Election officials caution that it is still too soon to say what the final results will look like. They also say there were some serious irregularities in the area around Iraq's third-largest city, Mosul.
Electoral commission official Izzedine al-Mahmoudi says, in the town of Bartala, east of Mosul, more than 15,000 people were unable to vote because election workers did not show up on polling day, due to what he called security reasons.
Mr. Mahmoudi told reporters there were a number of polling stations in the Mosul area looted by gunmen.
"They stole the ballot boxes, and they tried to bribe the workers. In some polling centers, gunmen stole the election cards, and they returned them in irregular ballot boxes," explained Mr. Mahmoudi.
He said 40 ballot boxes from Ninevah province, which includes Mosul, were affected by irregularities, and are now under investigation. They will have to be cleared by the electoral commission, before the ballots in them can be added to the official tally.
Some Christian and Sunni Arab politicians from northern Iraq have alleged that thousands of their supporters were unable to vote on election day, either because of electoral mismanagement, or because of what they believe might have been a deliberate effort to disenfranchise their communities.
The electoral commission also released partial results from several more provinces, including Dohuk and Sulimaniyah, which are two of the three Kurdish-dominated regions where voter turnout was high. Those returns have pushed the main Kurdish alliance into second place, although the Shiite religious coalition, known as the United Iraqi Alliance, still maintains a strong lead.
Election officials have stressed that it is impossible to predict the final election outcome from these incomplete early returns, and the picture could change significantly, as more results come in from the Kurdish and Sunni Arab regions.
The latest batch of results includes the first indication of how voting went in a Sunni-Arab-dominated province. Election officials said they have counted ballots from 80 percent of polling stations in the Salaheddin region, which includes Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit and the key Sunni town of Samarra. It looks like voter turnout there was extremely low, with only about 124,000 people voting in the polling stations counted so far.
In a surprising development, the Shiite coalition has taken most of the votes in Salaheddin so far, with the Kurdish alliance a distant second and the slate led by Sunni interim President Ghazi al-Yawar third. The province is mainly Sunni, with small pockets of Shiite and Kurdish residents, but most of the region's Sunnis appear to have stayed away from the polls.