"The decisive region is Baghdad."
Sami al-Askari, an ally of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and a candidate in Baghdad for the Iraqi Parliamentary elections.
The tallying of the March 7 elections continues, with partial election results released March 15 suggesting a sharp and divisive shift in power in Iraq. So far the results show Maliki up in six of Iraq's nine southern provinces populated by the Shiite majority but the coalition led by Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite and former prime minister, shows he is still putting up a fight.
Many say Baghdad, with 70 seats in Parliament, is the crucial test. With two-third of the votes counted so far, Maliki is winning a plurality of Baghdad and Allawi is right behind him. But another surprise is the emergence of the Sadrist movement as an influential political bloc, headed by Moktada al-Sadr, a radical cleric who led the Shiite insurgency against the American occupation. This time around the Sadrists, which have wide support among the Shi'ite poor in the oil-producing south and deprived urban areas like Baghdad's Sadr City slum, have embraced the political process (while still remaining opposed to the ties with the U.S.). Throwing them into the mix may now make it that much harder to form a new postelection government.
Either way, the election was considered a milestone in U.S. plans to withdraw all but 50,000 troops by August.