With 1.6 million votes counted, the Shia alliance had 72.8%, the election commission said on Thursday. The coalition has the blessing of Iraq's Shia spiritual leader, Grand Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani, and is expected to become the biggest single force in the new 275-member national assembly. 

A list headed by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi came in second, with about 18.4% in the partial count. The partial results come from Baghdad and five other of Iraq's 18 provinces - Dhi Qar, Muthanna, al-Qadisiya, Najaf and Karbala. The provinces are dominated by Shia. 

The final result is expected in about a week's time. 

Soldiers killed

Meanwhile, a US soldier was killed by a roadside bomb near Mosul while a second soldier attached to a marine unit died during an operation south of Baghdad, the US military said on Friday. 

More than 1000 US soldiers have
died in Iraq since March 2003

The attack south of Mosul occurred early on Thursday morning during a convoy patrol. Another soldier was wounded and taken to hospital. 

The soldier who died in Babil province, which stretches just south of the capital, was also killed on Thursday but no further details were given. The deaths raise to 1105 the number of US troops killed in action in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

The United States announced on Thursday that about 15,000 soldiers whose tours were extended for the election would be brought home shortly, but the military planned to keep 135,000 troops in Iraq throughout the year.