With results from Iraq's March 7 elections nearly complete, the coalition headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is maintaining a razor-thin lead over the allies of secular Shiite and former prime minister Ayad Allawi. It could take weeks or months of negotiating to determine who will be included in Iraq's next government, but Iraq's three main groups — Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and ethnic Kurds — could be headed for a major power shift. Here, a run down of likely winners and losers in the Iraqi elections:
Ayad Allawi: No matter how the final tally turns out, says Reuters' Ahmed Rasheed, Allawi's "strong showing" — with his cross-sectarian Iraqiya alliance leading in at least five of the country's 18 provinces — will make him a force to be reckoned with as the U.S. military withdraws.
Iraq's Arab neighbors: Since Allawi is seen as an Arab nationalist — he's a Shiite, but he was a member of Sunni Saddam Hussein's Baath Party — Iraq's Arab neighbors have good reason to hope that any influence he has in the new government will make it more friendly toward them, and less inclined to tilt toward Iran.
Moqtada al-Sadr: The followers of Sadr, a radical Shiite cleric now in exile in Iran, appear to have won 40 or more spots in the 325-seat parliament, says Anthony Shadid in The New York Times. If the numbers hold, Sadr's camp will have the clear majority in the mostly Shiite Iraqi National Alliance, the main rival to Prime Minister Maliki's State of Law coalition.
Sunnis: "Newly emboldened" Sunni voters "forcefully took part under the banner of a secular alliance," says the Times' Shadid. With the secular Shiite Allawi emerging as "default leader for the Sunnis," the coalition scored big gains in Iraq's Sunni provinces.
Nouri al-Maliki: The good news for Prime Minister Maliki is that he maintains a narrow lead over Allawi with 86 percent of the votes counted. The bad news is, says Margaret Coker in The Wall Street Journal, is that even if Maliki wins he won't have "a clear mandate" — so he'll have to reach out to a range of rivals "to form a stable ruling government."
Shiite religious parties: Despite the personal success enjoyed by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, Shiite religious parties as a group saw their influence wane. Their one hope is that Maliki, if he ekes out a victory, will need to keep them happy to shore up his power.
Iran: Iran's proxies in Iraq appear to have been "handed a major political defeat," says Ryan Mauro in Front Page magazine, finishing a distant third behind Nouri al-Maliki's moderate Shiites and Ayad Allawi's secular nationalists. This suggests that Sunnis and Shiites are rejecting Iranian influence in their government.