Officials in Nouri al-Maliki's campaign office say the Prime Minister's State of Law party has won a plurality of seats in nine of the country's 18 governates. Initial results of Sunday's national election, however, still won't be available until later this week, and those projections are based only on observations by party staff.
Independent analysts in Iraq believe the results will be close among the top three blocs and that none of them will have a majority of the 325 parliamentary seats. This means that intensive negotiations will take place among various parties to produce a coalition that is acceptable to the Council of Representatives (Iraq's parliament). The effort could take months. Moves are already under way in anticipation of the work that lies ahead. These are the four main political blocs likely to figure heavily in the negotiations:
The State of Law party: 3:1 - Odds of forming a government.
Leader: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a religious-political Shiite.
Outlook: The party may receive the most votes and seats, but will have trouble building a coalition acceptable to the Council of Representatives.
First move: Mr. al-Maliki must shore up his Sunni religious credentials by asking the Iraqi Accord (descended from the Muslim Brotherhood) to join him.
Best hope: Enticing the Iraqi National Alliance (a mostly Shia religious bloc) to join it, then reaching out to one of the Kurdish parties.
- The INA's largest member, the movement of Muqtada al-Sadr, will split from the INA before it ever joins Mr. al-Maliki (he defeated the Sadrists' Mahdi Army and recently issued an arrest warrant for Mr. al-Sadr, who is believed to be in Iran).
- Kurds don't like Mr. al-Maliki's strong centralist approach to federalism.
Iraqiya: 3:2 - Odds of forming a government.
Leader: Former prime minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite.
Outlook: Should do well in Sunni districts and among secular Shiites; might exceed Mr. al-Maliki's totals.
First move: Advocate a Sunni to be president (current Vice-President Tarek al-Hashemi is likely choice).
Best hope: A partnership with the Shia INA, both of whose principal partners prefer Mr. Allawi to Mr. al-Maliki.
Next moves: Invite smaller parties - Iraqi Unity Alliance and Ahrar - to join it. Then invite one or both Kurdish parties.
- Getting INA leader Ammar al-Hakim to drop his anti-Baathist attitude and accept the Sunnis in Iraqiya.
- Getting the Najayfi arch nationalists within Iraqiya to accept Kurds in the coalition.
Iraqi National Alliance: 10:1- Odds of forming a government.
Leader: Ammar al-Hakim, a religious Shiite.
Outlook: Combining the forces of Mr. al-Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq with the Sadrist stream gives this bloc a real boost, though likely still to be in third place.
First move: Offer full partnership to Iraqiya.
Best hope: Iraqiya embraces it, followed by Kurds.
- Being ahead of Iraqiya in Sunday's vote.
- Keeping his Sadrist partners in line.
Kurdistani Alliance: 1:2: - Odds of being in government.
Leader: President Jalal Talabani, a Sunni Kurd.
Outlook: Alliance of two traditional Kurdish parties - Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Kurdistan Democratic Party - likely to see a drop in support with success of breakaway Goran (change) party.
First move: Consolidate with Goran party.
Best hope: A partnership with INA (based on mutual interest in decentralized federalism) to give it clout in bargaining with Iraqiya.
- Getting Goran to agree to join up.
- Working out deal with the Sadrists in the INA.