The results Iraq's national elections are finally in, and current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may be in trouble. Buoyed by support from Sunni Arabs and from secular Shia in Baghdad, former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's political party has eked out a surprise victory in the elections. Allawi's party, Iraqiya, won 91 seats to Maliki-run State of Law's 89, setting up a possible defeat for Maliki. But it takes a plurality of parliament--163 of the 325 seats--to form a ruling coalition. So the race is still open. With Maliki making accusations of fraud (which American officials reject), anything could happen.

  • Revolutionary for MidEast Politics  "Wow," writes the New America Foundation's Steve Clemons. "Incumbents hardly ever lose -- particularly in the Middle East." He warns, "There may be trouble ahead. I don't think al Maliki will step back easily or will be enthused about playing the minority role in a coalition government. But these election results are surprising as it's rare to see incumbent governments in the Middle East lose, or if they do lose -- to let that loss be actualized."
  • Will Maliki Accept Defeat?  Spencer Ackerman says he should. "Nouri al-Maliki will secure his place in history if he becomes the first non-interim Iraqi leader to willingly relinquish power after the results of an election," he writes. "Maliki can look at it this way: he made the country safe enough for people to feel comfortable very narrowly voting for one of his opponents. Perhaps Maliki will prevail, but that will only delay this reckoning."
  • If He Doesn't, Will U.S. Still Withdraw?  Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch warned in The National that Maliki "may not surrender power without a fight – and many of his backers may reject the prospect of being ruled by Allawi, who drew so heavily on Sunni votes." This could delay or altogether halt the planned withdrawal of 90,000 American troops still in Iraq.
  • Option 1: The Sweeping Coalition  The Economist explains, "Both [Allawi and Maliki] face an uphill struggle to find a winning coalition." That requires a broad compromise that will gain the 43-seat Kurdish party and the support of some less-than-attractive options: The highly pro-Iran ISCI party or the Sadrist party of violent religious leader Moktada al-Sadr, who "commands a militia known as the Mahdi Army that in the years after the toppling of Saddam Hussein battled ferociously against American, British and Iraqi government forces."
  • Option 2: The Unity Partnership  What if Maliki and Allawi joined? This Kumbaya scenario could require one of the two men to step down. "Their views are much closer than their fierce and rhetorically exaggerated campaign rivalry suggests. Together they would have a comfortable majority—and a chance to reconcile Iraq’s two main Muslim sects. The trouble is that neither man can abide the idea of playing second fiddle. In the end, one of them—or both—may have to be shoved off the stage by ambitious lieutenants capable of reaching across the aisle."
  • Maliki Abandoned By Own Party?  Juan Cole analyzes the mood in State of Law, Iraq's largest coalition of political parties, which is led by Maliki. "It sounds as though the State of Law leadership is entirely prepared to throw al-Maliki under the bus to get the votes required to form a government." The coalition, which is losing seats in the election, will need to ally with other parties, such as that of Moktada al-Sadr, whose hatred of Maliki comes from violence in the worst days of the war. "The State of Law may well have to sacrifice him to get an alliance with the more religious Shiite parties."