BAGHDAD Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's coalition came top in provincial elections two weeks ago, results released on Saturday showed, but failed to win a majority in any district, meaning it will need alliances to hold onto senior provincial posts.
Maliki's State of Law won the most seats in seven out of 12 provinces, in a vote that was the biggest test of Iraqi democracy since U.S. troops pulled out in December 2011.
Iraqi politics are deeply split along sectarian lines, with Maliki's power-sharing government mired in crisis over how to share power among Shi'ites, Sunni Muslims and ethnic Kurds who run their own autonomous region in the north.
"Ahead of the 2014 elections, the results signal to the blocs that pursuing a majoritarian government approach is difficult to bear fruit," said Ahmed Ali, an Iraq analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
"Coalition building remains a main characteristic of forming governments in Iraq."
Iraqiya, a secular but Sunni-dominated bloc that posed a serious challenge to the Shi'ite Maliki in 2010 parliamentary elections, won no more than three seats in any province, according to figures released by Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission.
Months of Sunni unrest have come to a head since security forces raided a protest camp on April 23, three days after the provincial elections. Clashes swiftly spread to other Sunni areas, pushing the monthly civilian death count to 712, the highest since 2009, according to the United Nations.
Civil war in Syria is fanning Sunni-Shi'ite rivalry across the Middle East, exacerbating tensions in Iraq. Under late dictator Saddam Hussein, the minority Sunnis were politically dominant, but now they complain of being marginalized.
Maliki's State of Law received the most votes in the capital Baghdad, where it took 20 of the 58 available seats.
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.
The Kurdistan region has its own timetable for provincial elections in its three governorates.
(Reporting by Raheem Salman; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)