In early tally, tight Iraq race deepens splits

The New York Times reports:

Iraq’s major coalitions were locked in a surprisingly close race on Thursday, in initial results from elections that deepened divisions across a fractured landscape. Candidates were quick to charge fraud, heightening concerns whether Iraq’s fledgling institutions were strong enough to support a peaceful transfer of power.

The day was the most tumultuous since Sunday’s vote for Parliament, with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s office saying he underwent surgery, officials with his chief rival complaining that their ballots were dumped in the garbage, and a leading Shiite coalition claiming that it had challenged the popular mandate that Mr. Maliki needed to return to power.

The turmoil deepened both anticipation and uncertainty over an election to choose a government that will rule Iraq as the United States begins its military withdrawal in earnest next month. “It is a very close race,” said a Western official, who viewed the early results but spoke on condition of anonymity since Iraqi officials were designated to release them. “Whatever the end results, we know it will be a fierce struggle to form a government.”

The initial returns, according to officials who have seen tallies from across the country, suggested a very tight race among Mr. Maliki’s coalition; Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite and the leader of the Iraqiya coalition; and a Shiite coalition known as the Iraqi National Alliance. The Kurds, though divided, appeared poised to finish strongly as well, they said, leaving Iraq’s political map far more ambiguous than just weeks ago.

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