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Iraq's Main Shi'ite Party Denies Election Setback


Iraq's main Shi'ite religious party has denied reports that it suffered a major setback to rival Shi'ite parties in provincial elections on Saturday.

The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council said Monday it finished in first or second place in most Iraqi provinces that took part in the vote. It promised to remain a key player in Iraqi politics.

Iraqi media say unofficial election results suggest that many Iraqis turned away from the Council and other religious parties they blame for fueling sectarian tensions. The reports say that sentiment benefited allies of Iraq's Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who campaigned on a law-and-order platform rather than religious themes.

The White House says U.S. President Barack Obama spoke with Mr. Maliki and President Jalal Talabani by telephone Monday. A spokesman said details of the conversation would be released later.

In an interview on U.S. television Sunday, Mr. Obama said provincial elections were "very significant" and signaled that Iraqis are ready to handle more of their own security.

Official results from the elections in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces are not expected for at least several days.

Iraq's Kurdistan is one of the places delaying elections until various regional issues can be worked out. Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said today that an agreement has been reached in principle to hold provincial elections on May 19.

Saturday's elections took place without any major violence. 51 percent of eligible voters are said to have taken part.

But in the northern city of Mosul today, an Iraqi man was killed when the driver of a U.S. military vehicle lost control because of a roadside bomb. The American vehicle then slammed into the victim's car.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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