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    Iraq Counts Votes After Parliamentary Election

    Iraqi election officials are counting ballots Thursday after the country's first general elections since U.S. troops withdrew in 2011.

    Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the high level of participation was a "slap in the face" to terrorism and those who wanted to disrupt the poll.



    "I consider the turnout in the parliamentary elections to be a slap in more than one face of those who do not want Iraq to be prosperous. It is also a slap in the face of terrorists who wanted to impede the process of elections, through violent acts which were repulsed by security troops, politicians and tribes. The election is also a slap in the face of those who wanted to falsify elections.''



    The prime minister expressed confidence that his party would take the lead, and called on others to join him in forming a ruling coalition.



    "There is no barrier to anybody who wants to be our ally. We will start a dialogue with anyone."



    Final results from the election are not expected for at least two weeks.

    Election officials say about 60 percent of the country's 22 million eligible voters took part in Wednesday's poll.

    Mr. Maliki's Shi'ite-based State of Law alliance is expected take the most seats in the 328-member parliament, but to fall short of a majority.



    Wednesday's vote came during a protracted surge in violence in Iraq. Security officials reported roadside bombs and suicide blasts targeting voters and polling stations in the northern and western parts of the country left at least 12 dead.

    Newly released figures from the United Nations say more than 1,000 people were killed in April, near the highest level since 2008.

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