Iraqi Lawmaker: PM's Party Winner in Elections

The Iraqi prime minister's coalition will talk to other parties about sharing power in mostly southern areas after initial projections showed the Shiite leader's allies were the big winners in last weekend's provincial elections, an Iraqi lawmaker said Wednesday.

The early results show Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's allies — the Coalition of the State of Law — finished first in 10 of the 14 provinces where elections were held Saturday, said the lawmaker, Abbas al-Bayati. It was unclear whether al-Maliki's coalition won an absolute majority in any of the provinces.

But al-Bayati told Associated Press Television News that the prime minister would reach out to other parties to form alliances on the ruling provincial councils.

The election commission has not released results of the Saturday balloting, the first in three years, and al-Bayati didn't give a basis for his claim. But all major Iraqi media have reported that al-Maliki's coalition appeared to be the big winner, a claim supported by officials from all major parties.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have hoped that the outcome of the elections would equitably distribute power among Iraq's fractured ethnic and sectarian groups and staunch support for the Sunni-led insurgency.

If the projections prove correct, the biggest loser would appear to be the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council — the biggest Shiite party, which has wielded power throughout the south for years.

The party, which is close to the Shiite religious establishment, came under sharp criticism for failing to deliver services in southern provinces. It may have also suffered because of its close ties to Iran.

On Wednesday, al-Maliki traveled to the holy city of Najaf to brief the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, about the election.

A statement by the prime minister's office said he told al-Sistani that the elections were carried out "in an honest way" and that if anyone maintains otherwise, he should provide proof.

The statement said al-Sistani insisted that the newly elected officials should deliver services to the people.

Three Kurdish provinces will vote later this year. In a fourth, the province around the northern city of Kirkuk, voting was postponed indefinitely because ethnic groups there could not agree on a power-sharing formula.

Meanwhile, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq said U.S. and Iraqi troops will be focused on a "safe and secure" transition of power following the elections.

"It is my hope that all of the candidates that participated and were not elected, will support the newly elected provincial councils," said Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin.

Violence in Iraq has sharply declined with less than 100 attacks a week reported throughout the country — four times fewer than ten weeks ago, and 10 times fewer than it was 18 months ago, Austin said.

There were only 11 attacks reported on election day, including a shooting at a Baghdad checkpoint, he said.

Despite the security gains, Iraq remains a dangerous place. On Wednesday, there were reports that a Shiite candidate in Basra escaped assassination.

Ahmed al-Yasiri, an official at Basra's provincial headquarters, was on his way to work when a roadside bomb targeted his convoy, said an Iraqi police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Al-Yasiri was running in the elections as a candidate of a Shiite political party.