BAGHDAD Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's coalition has taken the lead in eight out of the 12 provinces that held provincial elections at the weekend, including the capital Baghdad, preliminary results showed on Thursday.
A Maliki ally also won in Najaf, effectively giving him a lead in a ninth province.
The strong showing by Shi'ite Maliki's State of Law alliance - based on 87 percent of the results - consolidates his position ahead of parliamentary elections due in 2014, when he has hinted it will be time to form a majority government.
Iraqi politics are deeply split along sectarian lines, with Maliki's government in a crisis over how to share power among Shi'ites, Sunni Muslims and ethnic Kurds who run their own autonomous region in the north.
Voting in two Sunni majority provinces was put off until July due to concerns about security, a delay criticized by the United States. The cabinet said the date could be postponed again unless the situation improved.
Violence and suicide bombings have surged since the start of the year with a local al Qaeda wing vowing a campaign to stoke widespread confrontation. More than 100 people have been killed since Tuesday in clashes between militants and security forces.
(Reporting by Raheem Salman; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)