Iraq poll stalemate threatens frenzy of violence
IRAQ'S elections were heading for a dead heat last night in what was being seen as a triumph for democracy but a potential disaster for the country's bomb-shattered security.
With the final tally due to be declared today, the two leading coalitions were heading for 87 seats each and constitutional stalemate.
Just a few thousand votes separated the Iraqiya National Movement of the main challenger, Ayad Allawi, and the State of Law grouping put together by the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki.
It threatened to provoke a new wave of violence with national politics paralysed by drawn-out attempts to form a government.
Joost Hiltermann, who monitored the election for the International Crisis Group, said: "It is an irony, but this is what you get if you organise elections in an unstable situation. It could get really nasty. I'm utterly unconvinced that the Iraqi institutions are strong enough to withstand that kind of conflict."
With 163 seats out of the 325 in parliament needed for a majority, it could take months to win over smaller parties. Analysts and diplomats fear sectarian groups will seek to assert their interests in a leadership vacuum.
The count has been slowed by an elaborate process designed to eliminate fraud in which each vote is counted by two election officers. Their tallies have to agree. Mr Maliki was ahead in the early stages, as counting proceeded swiftly in provinces in the southern Shia heartland.
Mr Allawi's team cried foul, claiming that State of Law officials had interfered with polling stations and that Iraqiya ballots had gone missing.
But as counting speeded up in the north, Mr Allawi quickly caught up. Mr Allawi campaigned on an anti-sectarian, pro-secular government ticket. By yesterday, with 80pc of the votes counted, he had 2,102,981 compared with 2,093,997 for Mr Maliki -- a lead of fewer than 9,000.
Mr Allawi's daughter, Sara, said last night that a coalition with Mr Maliki might be possible. (© Daily Telegraph, London)