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Allawi races to form govt after slim election victory

Iyad Allawi begins the difficult task of forming a new Iraqi government after his coalition barely defeated Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in parliamentary elections. Maliki did not accept the election results, saying they were "not final".

AFP - Former premier Iyad Allawi on Saturday began talks which could last months to form a government after narrowly edging out incumbent Nuri al-Maliki in Iraq's parliamentary elections.

"There must be a strong government, capable of taking decisions which serve the Iraqi people, and bring peace and stability to Iraq," Allawi told a press conference on Saturday, a day after official results showed his Iraqiya bloc won 91 seats in parliament, two more than Maliki's State of Law Alliance.

Of coalition talks, he said: "There have been some talks, but they were only talks. Now, the negotiations begin."

Allawi however is competing with other blocs to be first to form a governing coalition after the supreme court earlier this week gave the green light for political horse-trading between all groups to commence immediately.

Maliki has refused to accept the results from the March 7 poll, insisting figures released Friday night by the election commission remained "preliminary."

Security officials have warned a protracted period of coalition building could give insurgent groups a chance to further destabilise Iraq, with deadly bomb attacks northeast of Baghdad which killed 42 people on Friday illustrating their concerns.

Neither Iraqiya nor State of Law clinched an overall majority in the 325-member Council of Representatives, with Allawi vowing after the results to "work with all sides" to form a government.

He has appointed Rafa al-Essawi, current deputy prime minister and a member of his alliance, to lead negotiations over coalition formation.

Allawi said before the full results were released that he would not join forces with Maliki unless the incumbent changed his policies.

He has confirmed previous talks with the Iraqi National Alliance, a coalition led by Shiite religious groups, and Kurdistania, comprised of the autonomous Kurdish region's two long-dominant blocs, which came third and fourth in the election respectively.

Iraq's supreme court, however, on Thursday specified that a clause in the constitution referring to the "largest Council of Representatives bloc" could include groups that came together after the March 7 polls to form new coalitions.

The opinion, published in response to a query submitted by Maliki on March 21, is crucial because the largest parliamentary bloc is given the first opportunity to form a government.

"The Iraqi people chose Iraqiya to be the base and start negotiations with other factions," Allawi said when asked Saturday about the decision.

"The biggest winning bloc will be responsible for form the cabinet even if they won by half a seat."

Maliki, meanwhile, told a press conference late on Friday that the election results were "not final", and refused to accept them.

The incumbent previously called for a nationwide manual recount of votes, alleging irregularities of the counting process.

Before Friday's figures were released, State of Law threatened not to recognise results it sees as tainted, which could plunge Iraq into political crisis, and organised several demonstrations in provinces where it fared well.

The United Nations and the United States, however, gave their blessing to the election and the results.

US Ambassador Christopher Hill and General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, said in a statement that there was "no evidence of widespread or serious fraud" and UN envoy Ad Melkert added that the polls were "credible."

The results come around five months before the United States is due to withdraw all of its combat troops from Iraq, and Washington will be keen to see a smooth outcome from the election.

All parties have three days to submit complaints, which will then be investigated by the election commission. It will likely be two weeks before Iraq's supreme court certifies the results.

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