Early Iraq Election results indicate win for Prime Minister Maliki

Early election results show Prime Minister Maliki leading in the Iraq election.

Iraq election: Iraqi electoral officials count votes at the Independent High Electoral Commission headquarters in Baghdad on March 11, following Iraq's second general elections since the US-led invasion of 2003. Iraq was hoping to hear the initial results of last weekend's election that was seen as a test of its fledgling democracy. They had been promised for March 9 but were delayed after the electoral commission said it had not yet counted the 30 percent of votes it needed to announce its preliminary findings.

Early results from Iraq's key election began coming in Thursday, showing a coalition led by the Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki ahead in two southern Shiite provinces where he was opposed by hard-line religious parties with close ties to Iran.

The results were the first to be officially released by the Independent High Electoral Commission since Sunday's balloting, and Iraqis continued to wait for results from the country's other 16 provinces.

The early results only reflect about one third of the votes cast in the two provinces in Iraq's Shiite-dominated south.

Still, they foreshadow an Maliki victory in an area where he was opposed by hard-line religious Shiite political leaders who have close ties to Iran.

In an effort to cast himself as an inclusive leader for all Iraqis, al-Maliki quit the main Shiite coalition last year to create the State of Law alliance, which includes some Sunni groups.

In Babil province, al-Maliki's political bloc won about 42 percent of the estimated 160,870 votes that have been counted so far, according to the data released by the election commission. In neighboring Najaf province, al-Maliki's win was even stronger รณ about 47 percent of the ballot count of 116,600 votes.

The Iraqi National Alliance, which is Iraq's top Shiite religious coalition, came in second in both provinces. The non-sectarian Iraqiya coalition led by former Premier Ayad Allawi, al-Maliki's top critic, came in third in the two provinces.

Some rivals of al-Maliki from the main Shiite coalition opposing him said earlier that his coalition appears to be in the lead across the country.

Associated Press Writers Sameer N. Yacoub, Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Ben Hubbard, Katarina Kratovac and Rebecca Santana contributed to this report.

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