|On the seventh anniversary of the US-led invasion, Iraqis have been transfixed by the daily vote tally released by the independent electoral commission [GALLO/GETTY]
Iraqis marked the seventh anniversary of the US-led invasion of their country with almost complete indifference.
One local channel, Babylon TV, declared it was the "eighth anniversary". If anything, that imprecision indicates that the US presence in the country is no longer the dominant issue.
With cliffhanger announcements daily from the Independent Electoral High Commission (IHEC), which is counting the votes from the general elections held on March 7, Iraqis have more pressing concerns.
Already, the lead position has changed hands twice, with the State of Law Coalition led by Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, and Iyad Allawi's Iraqiya List vying for the most seats. But the Shia-led Iraqi National Alliance is not far behind.
Investigating fraud allegations
|The IHEC has been investigating 2,000 complaints of electoral fraud [AFP]
On March 20, the IHEC announced it was slowing down its already painstaking tally.
As the total approaches 100 per cent, the Commission is expending its energies investigating allegation of fraud and bad practice.
Qassim al-Aboudi, the Commission's spokesman, said on Saturday that votes from 63 polling stations had been annulled over irregularities. He said almost 2,000 complaints had been filed and that the commission has looked into more than half.
As a first strategy for Iraq's close rivals appears to be to dispute the vote in an attempt to enhance their seat numbers in the new parliament, IHEC is spending time making sure their results are beyond criticism.
Iraqis who have spoken to Al Jazeera before and after the elections, have expressed a desire for their country to move beyond sectarian and political rivalries. But the political map which is slowly filling in as the results emerge, shows a country still voting along ethnic and sectarian lines.
The Shia vote is dominant in Shia areas of Baghdad and in the South, while the Sunni/secular vote is overwhelming in the West and toward the North up to the point where the Kurdish vote takes over.
Deals and compromises
With no one party holding anything approaching a dominant position, that means that deals and compromises will be required when it comes to forming a ruling coalition. And this is where Iraqis – who turned out in droves to vote, despite serious violence in Baghdad and Baquba in Diyala province – are most worried.
Their politicians' and lawmakers' performance on the job since the first general elections in 2005 has been the greatest disappointment of the democratic process so far. And a political vacuum is not good for security.
Al-Maliki ran a strong campaign, off the back of security improvements in the South and in Baghdad. But apart from this, he has little else to crow about. Iraq still lacks the basic infrastructure its people need, although electricity and water supplies are slowly improving.
Iraq is still short of competent technocrats to run government ministries, and jobs in government are still too often awarded as political favours rather than on the basis of merit.
Refugees International issued a reportthis week pointing out that Iraq still had 1.5 million internally displaced people, of whom 500,000 were living in conditions of squalor and neglect. It said that, on current form, it would take the Iraqi government years to improve their situation.
Now that she is out of government in Washington, and able to take a more detached view of the her country's seven years in Iraq, Condoleezza Rice, the former US secretary of state, conceded on Friday that the US, too – had made mistakes.
"We didn't understand how broken Iraq was as a society and we tried to rebuild Iraq from Baghdad out. And we really should have rebuilt Iraq outside Baghdad in," she said in a speech at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
"We should have worked with the tribes. We should have worked with the provinces. We should have smaller projects than the large ones that we had," she said.
In reality, while the US has assumed a cloak of invisibility in Baghdad - working behind the scenes with their Iraqi counterparts to help the security effort - out in the provinces it is still playing a vital – if reduced - role in supporting infrastructure projects, and patrolling jointly with Iraq security forces in dangerous provinces like Nineveh while acting as a buffer between Kurds and Arabs in the increasingly fractious northern regions around Kirkuk.
The next Iraqi government is still going to need that assistance to maintain progress and security in Iraq. But the US military has said its withdrawal plans will not be affected by any political turbulence, and that it is withdrawing combat troops as scheduled in August.
Combat troops re designated as 'trainers' will constitute the residue. It is not clear how many of them will remain in Iraq after the deadline set in the SoFA (Status of Forces Agreement) which commits the US to pull out entirely at the end of 2011.
There will be an "eighth anniversary", but not a ninth.