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Preliminary Results Released in Iraqi Election

The Iraqi Electoral Commission on Tuesday released more preliminary voting results from the country's December 15 election for a new National Assembly. The largest Shi'ite coalition appears to have kept most of its seats in Iraq's 275-member Assembly.

The Iraqi election chief, Adil Al Lami, says 90 percent of the votes have been counted. Although the official tally will not be certified until early January, the preliminary results show that the United Iraqi Alliance will hold the largest number of seats in the country's new four-year, fulltime National Assembly.

The United Iraqi Alliance currently holds a narrow majority in the National Assembly. It also has most of the positions in the powerful ministry of the interior. The prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, is also a member.

The Alliance is a conservative grouping of Islamist parties with ties to Iran. Sunnis accuse the current government of allowing Shi'ite militiamen, thinly veiled as police and interior ministry forces, of harassing, detaining and killing them.

Secular Iraqis dislike the coalition because of its Islamist leanings. One group that sought to challenge the United Iraqi Alliance for secular Shi'ite voters is headed by the former prime minister, Ayad Allawi. Allawi's party and some Sunni parties today accused Iraq's electoral commission of releasing voting results before allegations of voter fraud were investigated.

Election Commission spokesman Farid Ayar said 20 investigations into serious, or what are termed "red fraud cases," were under way, and that all investigations would be completed before the results are certified next month. "We are now investigating, more than 1,000, we are studying all of them, and we are doing our best to finish it in due time," he said..

Although the vote count is still preliminary, analysts say one aspect of Iraqi politics is certain from this election: the overwhelming majority of voters supported the party that identified with their religious sect and ethnicity.

Despite the sectarian nature of the vote, the fact that Sunni Arabs participated in large numbers gives hope that Iraqis can work out their differences through political, rather than violent means. But U.S. Government officials have predicted that a new Iraqi government will not be seated for months, as Iraq's Kurdish, Shi'ite, and now Sunni parties barter for ministry portfolios and the prime minister's position, amidst the ongoing insurgency.