Iraq's top court on Tuesday approved the results of the March parliamentary elections, a move that cements the narrow lead of a secular-led coalition but does little to end the impasse over forming a new government.
The Supreme Court's action starts the clock on a 15-day window for convening the new parliament. However, several Iraqi politicians said they expect legislators to buy more time by opening a new session and failing to adjourn it for weeks, a loophole that was used after the last parliamentary elections, in 2005.
The nearly three-month delay is frustrating for ordinary Iraqis, who risked their lives to vote, and for American officials, who need to coordinate the full withdrawal of U.S. forces with the next government. The Obama administration hopes to have just 50,000 service members remaining in Iraq by the end of August, but many political observers are skeptical that the incoming Iraqi government will be seated by then.
Now that the ratification has ended the months of recounts, accusations of fraud and other legal challenges to the results, the task ahead is high-stakes coalition building, because no single bloc won an outright majority.
Secular Shiite Muslim politician Ayad Allawi, whose courting of Sunnis won him the most seats in parliament, is locked in a fierce battle with incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, a conservative Shiite and now self-described nationalist.
Factions that would be kingmakers in such a tight race are themselves divided, which means that a compromise candidate could emerge and leave both Maliki and Allawi out of the running for the prime minister's post.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad called the certification "a step in the right direction."
"We call on Iraq's political leaders to move forward without delay to form an inclusive and representative government to work on behalf of the Iraqi people," the embassy's statement continued. "Now is the time for all political leaders to come together to put the interests of the Iraqi people foremost in their negotiations over the makeup of the new government."