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Iraq election turnout down, likely months before new government

Iraq election turnout fell relative to Iraq's last parliamentary elections in 2005. The first indication of results is expected Wednesday, but it will likely take months to build a coalition government.

By Jane ArrafCorrespondent / March 8, 2010

Iraq election: Workers carry boxes of parliamentary election ballots to the tally center in Baghdad Monday.

Mohammed Ameen/Reuters

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Baghdad

Iraqi election workers began tallying votes from 47,000 polling stations across the country Monday, a day after the country pulled off a landmark vote despite dozens of scattered explosions that went off in Baghdad and in other parts of the country.

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At the bustling headquarters of the Iraqi High Electoral Commission (IHEC), cheers went up as the first boxes of tally sheets from individual polling stations arrived. The boxes, from polling sites in the Rasafah district of Baghdad, were put through metal detectors before dozens of IHEC employees began unsealing the envelopes.

The IHEC said 62.4 percent of eligible Iraqis voted. That’s down from an official figure of 79.6 percent in the last parliamentary elections, when Shiite Arab and Kurdish voters turned out in huge numbers, but represents the first national parliamentary elections with wide Sunni Arab participation.

The first indication of results is expected by Wednesday at the earliest, when 30 percent of the votes counted in a single governorate are expected to be tallied and announced. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition is expected to make a strong showing in the south. But political observers believe that the overall race between Maliki and Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite, is too close to call.

Whether Maliki’s State of Law alliance, former prime minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqiya Party, or the Iraq National Alliance – which includes Ahmed Chalabi and radical Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr – win the most votes, the leading political parties are expected to take until late spring or even summer to strike the bargains needed to form a coalition government. The two main Kurdish parties and a breakaway Kurdish group are expected to be a key part of any coalition.

Officials fear that the political uncertainty while a government is being formed could fuel political violence.

That could extend the violence that plagued the run-up to Sunday’s election, and election day itself. Although almost 40 people were believed killed when two houses collapsed due to explosions early Sunday, US military officials said most of the attacks involved small, largely ineffective, bombs made from water bottles.

'Those who lose must accept that'

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