Former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi is celebrating a surprise victory in the country’s parliamentary elections.
His cross-sectarian Iraqiya bloc took 91 seats with with the State of Law coalition, led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki close behind with 89 seats.
Allawi says he will extend “hands and heart” to all groups.
“For all who want and wish to participate in building Iraq, we will together bury political sectarianism and political regionalism,” he said.
Nouri al-Maliki is challenging the result and has repeated calls for a recount, citing “irregularities”.
“The electoral commission,” he said, “should take all complaints seriously because the future of the political democratic process and the future of the country depends on this.”
As Maliki’s supporters hold impromptu protests demanding manual recounts in disputed areas, the stage is set for perilous and potentially divisive talks as negotiations to form a new government get underway.
Hours before the results were announced twin bomb blasts in the town of al Khalis killed at least 40 people and injured more than 60 others.
The attacks follow a series of suicide bomb attacks against prominent and heavily fortified targets.
There are very real fears the violence could escalate further as long as aggrieved electoral losers fail to accept the result.