Early results in Iraq's parliamentary elections show incumbent Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's State of Law formation ahead in the southern Shia strongholds while Iyad Allawi's secular Iraqiya list is performing impressively in areas dominated by Sunnis.

In elections which are again exposing the sectarian faultlines, Mr. Maliki's coalition is ahead in Najaf and Babil provinces, located south of Baghdad. Mr. Allawi's secular alliance leads in two provinces north and east of the capital.

In northern Iraq, the two major Kurdish parties are expectedly performing well. Of the 28 per cent of the votes counted there, the bloc including the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of Jalal Talbani, President, and Massoud Barzani- led, Kurdistan Democratic Party, have taken a substantial lead over the rival Goran Party.

Analysts point out that the support that Mr. Maliki's coalition has received in the Najaf and Babil provinces, which are generally more religiously oriented, could signal setbacks, as the counting progresses, for the rival National Iraqi Alliance-another Shia formation, seemingly well inclined towards Iran. Mr. Allawi's positive showing is being interpreted as an expression of the growing influence of secular Sunnis within Iraq's larger Sunni bastions.

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