'Significant increase' seen in Iraqi expatriate vote
320,000 ballots cast in 15 countries for Iraq's new parliament
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A group that monitored the Iraqi parliamentary elections said preliminary findings show "there has been a significant increase in voter turnout" among Iraqi expatriates casting ballots in 15 countries across the globe.
The International Mission for Iraqi Elections, based in Canada, said in a Friday news release about 320,000 ballots were cast among Iraqi expatriates voting for the country's new parliament.
That figure would surpass the 265,000 votes cast in the January 30 vote for a transitional national assembly. There was no out-of-country vote for the October constitutional referendum.
This number is another indication of what U.S. and Iraqi authorities are calling a high voter turnout on Thursday for the four-year Council of Representatives, a 275-seat national parliament.
Iraqi election officials have been counting votes for two days but cannot yet provide results or vote percentages, even though media reports estimate that the national turnout could be as high as 70 percent, pushing the number of actual voters past 11 million.
This would exceed the January 30 vote toll, which was 8.5 million and the October 15 referendum, when more than 9.8 million Iraqis voted. There are about 15.5 million registered voters in Iraq.
Abdul Hussein al-Hindawi, an Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq official, told reporters on Saturday that "official results will not be complete before 10 days or more" and final results won't be approved until a variety of citizen complaints about elections have been answered.
Among the violations being probed are the destruction of posters, breaking the rules on media silence the day before election day, the conduct of electoral employees and campaign violence.
The IECI said that more than 6,200 polling centers were in operation across Iraq on Thursday. They were staffed by more than 170,000 workers.
"The polls generally opened on time and voting continued peacefully without major incidents," the IECI said in a statement.
They were "monitored by 120,000 observers, including 800 accredited by international observer groups, and 230,000 political entity agents."
Even though the final results are not in, the coalition politicking is getting under way for the parliament, with Sunni Arabs expected to play a significant role.
Among the top blocs in the election are the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish alliance, who hold sway in the current transitional national assembly. However, other parties are expected to fare well, including the secular-oriented block led by former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and the Iraqi Accord Front, a coalition of Sunni Arab parties.
One Sunni Arab politician from this bloc said his party is open to making alliances with any group willing to work toward unity, regardless of religion or ethnicity.
"We'll form alliances with any group who will work on protecting the best interests of all Iraqis," Adnan al-Dulaimi said in a news conference carried by Arabic-language networks.
"We cannot mention names of these groups, but we'll form alliances with all the groups that will work for the unity, liberation and security of Iraq, protecting the national wealth and creating a balanced governing system, and not allow sectarian and ethnic divisions."
U.S. officials in Iraq are urging Iraqis to take advantage of coalition-building as they jockey for power.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and Gen. George Casey, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, issued a joint statement urging the "newly elected leaders" to "come together quickly and build bridges for national unity and establish an effective, broad-based government that Iraqi's across ethnic and sectarian lines have confidence in."
Iraq has been driven by sectarian differences, particularly between the minority Sunni Arabs, who held power under Saddam Hussein, and the majority Shiite Arabs.
If the politicking is anything like it was last winter, the process could take a long time.
Political deal-making prevented the National Assembly elected on January 30 from convening until March 16. Jalal Talabani wasn't chosen president until April 6 and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari didn't take office until nearly three months after election day -- April 28.
CNN correspondent Aneesh Raman contributed to this report
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