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Iraqi PM Remains Ahead After Partial Vote Count

Iraqis continue to await the final results of the country's March 7th parliamentary election and the country's high electoral commission continues to slowly tabulate votes. Final results are not expected for at least another 48 hours, as leading politicians level charges of fraud and electoral irregularities.

Conflicting information swirled around the latest vote count in Iraq's parliamentary election Saturday following statements by electoral officials that some posted results were incorrect. Tallies by various news organizations, however, put Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition in the lead in both Baghdad and Karbala, south of the capital. Baghdad accounts for more than one-fifth of the 325 member Council of Representatives.

Mr. Maliki, according to several Iraqi satellite TV channels, has over 150,000 votes in Baghdad, largely outdistancing rival political blocs led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and interim president Ibrahim al- Jaafari. State TV reported that final results would not be known for at least 48 to 72 hours.

Former Prime Minister Allawi complained to al Arabiya TV about various "voting irregularities" and "problems with the vote count," but insisted that he was "not accusing anyone of fraud."

United Nations representative Sandra Mitchell, for her part, flatly rejected charges of fraud or irregularities, insisting that the vote and the vote count were clean.

Judge Qassem al-Abboudi, spokesman for the electoral commission, urged political leaders to refrain from making public accusations and to follow legal procedures in making complaints about the election. He says that making statements to the press is not the way to do things, because (political leaders) need to live up to their responsibilities and stop talking to the press. He argues that anyone with proof (of cheating) needs to follow legal channels and complain to the electoral commission, and ultimately to the court system.

A number of independent electoral observers publicly criticized the Iraqi national electoral commission, both for voting irregularities and for giving "sloppy, partial vote counts." Hoqer Kato of the Shams electoral network told al Hurra TV that some of the violations were serious. He says that his Shams electoral monitoring network detected cases of multiple irregularities during the general election, and has presented 224 specific cases to the electoral commission. 38 of those complaints, he insists, were what he called serious violations.

Despite the fact that under a third of the vote has been officially counted, Iraqi leaders are reportedly scrambling to negotiate to form a new government. Prime Minister Maliki will not necessarily remain in power, even if he wins a plurality of votes.

Selim al-Jabbouri of the Iraqi Islamic party, a top Sunni leader, stressed that politicians should wait until the vote tally was finished before trying to form alliances. He says that all political forces should wait for the electoral commission to announce the final results in order to have a better idea of what alliances they are going to form, and what programs and priorities that will govern those alliances.

Iyad al-Samaraie, the outgoing speaker of parliament, indicated that he wasn't too optimistic about what sort of government was going to emerge from the voting. He says that there is going to be a real problem after the results are announced, because everyone will have to compromise, make deals, and form alliances to reach any sort of agreement. He also worries that some politicians have extremist positions.

U.S. officials have emphasized that it "could take weeks," before a new Iraqi government is formed. The U.S. is planning to withdraw all combat forces by August. U.S. troops handed over the main border checkpoint between Iraq and Jordan Saturday to their Iraqi counterparts.