The New York Times reports:
When the votes were all finally counted, Iraq’s election left almost everything unresolved, from who would finally rule the country to whether American combat troops would be able to leave on schedule by August.
The former interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite once derided as an American puppet, galvanized the votes of Sunnis who sat out Iraq’s first national elections and clawed his way back from political obscurity. But his wafer-thin edge of 91 to 89 over his nearest rival, the incumbent prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, falls far short of the majority of 163 of the 325 seats in parliament that he needs to form a government.
A jubilant Mr. Allawi said he would work with any group that was willing to join him in forming a government. “We will not exclude anyone,” he said. “Our coalition is open to all.”
But even with the best of intentions, assembling that coalition will take at least until July, possibly even longer, Iraqi political experts said, and Mr. Allawi will have to overcome deep-seated enmity from the other two biggest vote-getting blocs: the Kurds, with 43 seats; and the Iraqi National Alliance, a Shiite party that gained 70 seats and is led in part by the anti-American cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, who emerged as a possible king maker.
In that case, Mr. Maliki would remain as a caretaker prime minister, and Iraq would enter a protracted period of uncertainty that could prove particularly dangerous as American troops draw down. President Barack Obama has promised that all combat troops will withdraw from Iraq by August, leaving 50,000 trainers and support troops until the end of 2011.