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With most Iraq election votes counted, Iyad Allawi closer to Prime Minister Maliki

With 79 percent of the votes in the Iraq election counted, the coalition of secular challenger Iyad Allawi drew closer to the religious Shiite list of Prime Minister Maliki. The close election indicates months of negotiation before a new government is formed.

Iyad Allawi, former Iraqi prime minister and head of the secular Iraqiya alliance, speaks during a news conference in Baghdad February 25, 2010. Mr. Allawi is drawing closer to Prime Minister Maliki in the Iraqi election.

Saad Shalash/Reuters

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Iraq’s embattled election commission announced Tuesday that 79 percent of the votes from parliamentary elections have been counted, a breakthrough for a process so slow that it’s raised suspicions of fraud. The close race got even closer as secular rival, Iyad Allawi, edged nearer to Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s coalition.

The longer the process drags on, the more anxious and speculative Iraq’s rival parties become as they await the results of the March 7 vote, the second general election since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Election Day was hailed as a success as millions of Iraqis defied attacks and intimidation to head to polling stations. The chaotic ballot-counting process, however -- coupled with the emergence of challengers to traditional Shiite Muslim and Kurdish parties -- has sapped voter confidence amid allegations of ineptitude, fraud and manipulation.

Although nearly every major political bloc has made such claims, the United Nations, Iraqi monitoring groups and Western diplomats have said there’s no evidence of widespread or “systemic” fraud that would discredit the entire vote or any one ticket.

Nevertheless, Maliki’s State of Law coalition made fresh allegations Tuesday, accusing the counting center of doctoring numbers and demanding a recount, according to a letter signed by Maliki and obtained by The Associated Press.

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