Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and main rival Iyad Allawi were locked in a close election race on Thursday, as indicated by updated results. Maliki's State of Law Alliance led secular ex-premier Allawi's Iraqiya list by just 40,000 votes nationwide, according to latest results based on 89 percent of ballots counted.
Thursday's figures included 70 percent of special voting, conducted three days before the election, for security personnel, hospital patients and staff, and prisoners. Votes cast by Iraqis abroad have not yet been tabulated.
Overall, State of Law garnered 2,448,452 votes compared to Iraqiya's 2,408,547, a difference of 39,905. The Iraqi National Alliance (INA), a coalition led by Shiite religious groups, was third nationwide with 1,859,606, AFP reported.
State of Law leads in Baghdad, which is the largest province and accounts for more than twice as many seats as any other. It is also ahead in the southern province of Basra, the third biggest, as well as five other mostly Shiite central and southern provinces, but has failed to finish in the top three in all but one of Iraq's Sunni-majority provinces.
Iraqiya, on the other hand, was leading in four provinces, including the second biggest, Nineveh. It was also in a tie for the lead in a fifth, Kirkuk, where it was ahead of a Kurdish bloc by about 600 votes. It was placed in the top three in six predominantly Shiite provinces where Maliki was either first or second.