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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 January 2006, 22:15 GMT
Iraq nears election endgame
By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Baghdad

An Iraqi woman walks past election posters
Political vacuums have in the past been filled by violence
It is a month since the Iraqi elections and the final results are still not out, let alone a new government in place running the country.

Complaints, which are still being investigated, have delayed proceedings, but the mist surrounding Iraq's political future could begin to clear in the next few days.

The Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq received more than 1,800 complaints - 50 of them serious enough to have an impact on the result in any given constituency.

An investigation into these complaints has been followed closely by an international monitoring panel.

It is a process which has delayed results by at least two weeks - and the Eid holiday has also slowed down any announcements.

Obstacles remain

But the electoral commission is now expected to publish its response to complaints in the next few days, and soon after that the preliminary elections results.

That is when the political horse-trading starts getting serious.

The talks have been going on for weeks now behind the scenes, but as soon as the preliminary results come out, everyone is going to know exactly which party has got which of the 275 seats.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari
Different Iraqi factions have already been discussing coalition options

Although the coalition-building will begin gathering steam, there are still obstacles to the formation of the new government.

Those who lodged the serious complaints have 48 hours to appeal against the commission's decision - if a panel of judges agrees to hear those appeals it could be another 10 days before the issue is settled.

Only then can the final results be certified and the political process can be allowed to continue as planned.

There is a strict timetable for coalitions to be formed, for elected members of the Council of Representatives to vote in a president, and for a prime minister and cabinet to be approved.

So that is the mechanics of it all - the politics is another element that is likely to delay the government's formation still further.

Political vacuums in Iraq, on past experience, have been filled by an increase in violence from insurgents working to disrupt the process.

Things have been quiet during Eid, but prior to that hundreds of people were killed and hundreds more injured - many of them in sectarian attacks on Shia pilgrims and at a Shia funeral.

Power game

We already know that the Shia coalition has won the election - but not by enough for an outright majority.

Deals will have to be done and it is likely that both Sunni and Kurdish groups will be part of the new government.

With the lack of left-wing or right-leaning parties, people voted on ethnicity or religion, and the sectarian nature of the new Iraqi political landscape means the insurgent attacks are putting pressure on the negotiations.

The Shia parties - although they are the most powerful, with the greatest number of seats in the new parliament - still point the finger of blame for the continuing death and injury caused by insurgents.

It is a power game which is being played out in the media, as deals come closer to being sealed.

But there is still a long way to go before a new Iraqi government is in place - and even then there is no guarantee it will bring peace and stability as quickly as everyone wants and hopes.



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