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Centrist Groups Take Early Lead in Iraq Vote

The first partial results from Iraq's national elections Sunday indicate the Shi'ite coalition led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has a slight lead in two mainly Shi'ite provinces in the south. Another centrist bloc, Iraqiya, appears to be doing well in the north. The votes continue to be counted, some candidates are raising objections.

The early numbers appear to confirm projections this would be a tight race. Prime Minister Maliki's centrist State of Law coalition has the edge over the Iraqi National Alliance. The more overtly religious Shi'ite faction, with ties to Iran, had put up a strong campaign in the south.

The results reflect 30 percent of the vote in Babil and Najaf provinces. Iraqiya, the cross-sectarian coalition led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is ahead in Diyala and Salahuddin provinces, north of Baghdad. In the far north, Kurdish parties, joined by newcomer Change, are expected to retain their seats in the 325-member parliament.

Even before the first results were announced, there were rumblings of discontent. The last-minute disqualification of 55 candidates left open the question of how their supporters' votes would be counted. And, a member of the Iraqi National Alliance is demanding candidates be allowed to review the results before they are made public.

The complete count is not expected for at least a week. At that time, officials will begin hearing complaints that could have an impact on the outcome of any given race. Final, officials results are not expected before the end of the month.

Despite delays and violence that marred early voting and balloting on Sunday, Iraqis for the most part are expressing satisfaction the vote, the second national election since the U.S. led invasion in 2003, went as well as it did.

The muezzin of the Shi'ite al Zahara mosque in Baghdad, Jabar Abbas Aziz, believes the days of sectarian divide are over.

He says Iraqis do not have a problem between Sunnis and Shi'ites. He believes the problem was made up by people outside the country, not inside Iraq.

Many voters made clear their desire for stability, and all that it will bring. Rahim al Mamouri, who works as handyman for the Iraqi military says as long as the next government can ensure security, Iraqis will be all right.

Mamouri says stability will open the gates for Western companies to invest in Iraq, which in turn means Iraqis will have more jobs.

It may be some time before the new government will be formed. With the top coalition only expected to have a plurality of seats, political observers expect a lengthy period of intense back-room deals and compromises.