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Iraq Politicians Maneuver for Power Ahead of Election Results

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Iraq Politicians Maneuver for Power Ahead of Election Results
March 09, 2010, 7:29 AM EST

By Caroline Alexander and Daniel Williams

March 9 (Bloomberg) -- Political maneuvering was under way in Iraq before initial results from the parliamentary election are announced, with early indications that no party would win a majority and tough coalition bargaining lies ahead.

Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi told a televised news conference in Baghdad that the next president of the country must be an Arab. “This country is Arab and an Arab should be on top,” he said.

The current president is Kurdish politician Jalal Talabani, who has already declared his intention to stay on in the job. The president is elected by parliament.

The main competitors are Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance and the Iraqiya party of a former premier, Ayad Allawi. Coalition-building is essential to a U.S. plan to withdraw its troops as Iraq establishes a stable government. American officials insist the pullout will go ahead.

Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission said it will announce preliminary results later today as districts that have tallied at least 30 percent of their votes report to Baghdad. Final results may not be certified until the end of the month. Turnout was 62.4 percent, the panel said.

Al-Maliki’s and Allawi’s lists of candidates may each get less than a third of the 325 seats at stake, according to reports from Iraqi media.

Allawi’s list is “neck and neck” with al-Maliki’s bloc, Allawi’s official spokeswoman, Maysoon al-Damluji, said today in a phone interview from Baghdad. “We are doing pretty well.”

Al-Damluji said that Allawi’s group had success with voters in Baghdad and the western provinces. She declined to provide details until results are released. Al-Damluji is a lawmaker in the current parliament and a member of Allawi’s alliance.

Sectarian, Ethnic

Initial signs are that the election is breaking along sectarian and ethnic bounds. Al-Maliki’s alliance is leading in nine predominately Shiite Muslim provinces in the south, Sumaria Television reported. Abbas al-Bayati, an official from al- Maliki’s coalition, told the Associated Press the group also did well in the mixed city of Baghdad.

Allawi’s Iraqiya, which campaigned for a non-sectarian Iraq, was winning in four mainly Sunni Muslim provinces in the center and north, Sumaria and the Iraq News Agency reported. Al- Hashemi is a Sunni from the Iraqiya party.

Kurdish parties were sweeping the Kurds’ autonomous zone in the far northeast. Other Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties were running behind, the Iraqi broadcaster and news agency said.

Oil Revenue

Top government jobs, including the head of the influential Oil Ministry, will be at stake.

The ruling coalition that emerges from the election will have to resolve disputes over sharing oil revenue among regions and whether to include the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in the Kurdish autonomous region in the north, as well as cope with violence between Shiites and Sunnis.

Iraq’s 115 billion-barrel oil reserves place it third behind Saudi Arabia and Iran. The country pumped about 2.4 million barrels a day last month, according to Bloomberg estimates.

Once official results are announced, Talabani will have 15 days to convene a new parliament. The first session elects a speaker and two deputy speakers. Next, a new president is elected with a two-thirds majority.

The new president has 15 days to task the leader of the largest bloc with forming a government.

U.S. Troops

Violence may escalate if the majority Shiites and the minority Sunni Muslims and Kurds aren’t all included in a coalition, said Ahmed Ali, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. That would thwart U.S. ambitions to leave a stable Iraq as it withdraws its troops.

U.S. troop strength will shrink from 96,000 to 50,000 by Sept. 1. All U.S. forces gone from Iraq by the end of 2011, under a schedule set last year by President Barack Obama.

Parties will probably spend months haggling over the makeup of a coalition government, said Wael Abdel Latif of the National Iraqi Alliance, a major Shiite Muslim bloc.

“The formation of the government may face big problems if the results are close and there is no clear winner,” Latif said in an interview yesterday in Baghdad. Preliminary results showed “a very close race,” he said.

It could take more than six months to form a government, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said in a March 3 report.

The parliamentary vote was the second since Saddam Hussein’s overthrow by U.S. forces in 2003. More than 6,200 candidates competed for seats in the legislature, the Council of Representatives.

--With assistance from Kadhim Ajrash in Baghdad and Nayla Razzouk and Zahraa Alkhalisi in Dubai. Editors: Heather Langan, Peter Hirschberg

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