BAGHDAD Iraq's Supreme Court on Tuesday certified the final results of a March 7 parliamentary election, affirming the narrow victory of a cross-sectarian coalition led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
Iraqis had hoped the election would help stabilize their nation after years of sectarian war. But the inconclusive vote exposed deep divides and opened the door to insurgents determined to disrupt the political process.
The high court approval allows electoral blocs to begin serious negotiations to form a government after an election that produced no clear winner. The secularist Allawi's Iraqiya list won two more seats than the mainly Shi'ite State of Law group headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
"Based on the articles of the constitution we have decided to approve the election results," Chief Judge Midhat al-Mahmoud said.
The ruling, he said, would be sent on Tuesday to the presidency council, which must call the new parliament into session within 15 days.
Because no coalition won a majority in Iraq's 325-seat parliament, Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish coalitions have been jockeying for position in the new government.
State of Law, which won 89 seats, has announced a union with the third-place finisher, the Iraqi National Alliance, to form a single bloc in parliament. Together the two groups would have 159 seats, just short of a majority.
Allawi has warned that an alliance of Shi'ite groups that tries to exclude Iraqiya, which rode strong support from minority Sunnis to 91 seats in parliament, could trigger renewed sectarian violence as U.S. troops prepare to leave.
U.S. URGES INCLUSIVE GOV'T
More than seven years after the invasion that ousted Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, Washington plans to end combat operations officially by September 1 and to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
The U.S. embassy in Baghdad welcomed the long-awaited certification by the Supreme Court.
"This is an important step in the right direction as Iraq undertakes what will be a historic and peaceful transition of power from one elected government to another," the embassy said in a statement.
"With the election results officially certified, we call on Iraq's political leaders to move forward without delay to form an inclusive and representative government to work on behalf of the Iraqi people."
Although the high court validated the results, it said it still had questions about two winning candidates, one from Allawi's Iraqiya bloc and another from INA.
But Mahmoud said any decisions on those two candidates would not affect the distribution of seats among the coalitions.
"This ratification is final," he said. "There is no need for further ratification from any side. Parliament must convene within 15 days starting from today."
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Suadad al-Salhy; writing by Jim Loney; editing by Mark Heinrich)