Preliminary results in Iraq show Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition won a solid victory over Shi'ite religious parties in Saturday's provincial elections.

The preliminary tally released Thursdayindicates Mr. Maliki's State of Law coalition won in the capital, Baghdad, and Iraq's second largest city, Basra. The prime minister's allies also took the lead in at least eight other Shi'ite dominated provinces.

Shi'ite religious parties, including that of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, did not do so well in last weekend's provincial vote, during which Iraqis chose ruling councils in 14 of 18 provinces.

The prime minister is Shi'ite, but he has pursued a more secular agenda and taken forceful action against religious extremist militias.

The vote is being seen as a referendum of Mr. Maliki's leadership ahead of national parliamentary elections later this year.

In the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar, tribal parties beat out the ruling Iraqi Islamic Party. Security had been increased in the western province, after tribal leaders alleged that the ruling party rigged the vote.

Sunni Arab parties also won in Nineveh province. Kurds had ruled there because many Sunni Arabs boycotted the vote in 2005.

The disputed oil-rich province of Kirkuk and the three provinces of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region delayed the vote because of local issues.

As the preliminary results were released Thursday, officials said a suicide bomber killed at least 14 people in the northeastern province of Diyala.

In other news, Iraq's minister of women's affairs, Nawal al-Samarai, resigned on Thursday, citing what she said was the ministry's failure to meet the needs of Iraqi women.

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