Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has edged past the country’s current Prime Minister Nuri-al-Maliki for the first time as the election count enters its final stages.
The new initial results reverse the lead Maliki had taken in earlier counts.
Allawi’s narrow lead in the national vote, over Maliki’s mainly Shiite State of Law bloc – which is ahead in seven of 28 provinces – underlines Iraq’s polarisation after years of sectarian war.
Allawi – a secular Shiite, whose cross sectarian, Iraqiya list is now ahead in five provinces – has galvanised support among minority Sunnis eager to reclaim the influence they lost when Saddam Hussein’s long rule ended in 2003.
With about 80 per cent of an estimated 12 million votes counted, only about 9,000 votes separate Maliki’s and Allawi’s coalitions.
Some analysts – basing their findings on projected voting patterns – say the two leading contenders appear to be neck and neck approaching the finish.