by RAY FLEMING

BRITAIN is worrying about a hung parliament after next Thursday's election.
But it is unlikely that the problem will be as great as that facing Iraq after its recent election. The contest between the two leading parties was very close indeed: the secular Iraq National Alliance, led by former prime minister Ayad Allawi, took 25.87 per cent of the votes and the Shiite coalition, State of Law coalition led by the incumbent prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, got 25.76. In terms of votes counted the difference between the two parties was a mere 11'000 in the more than seven million cast, and in seats in the Council of Representatives the margin was 91-89.

The election took place on 7 March. The results were announced about two weeks later but are still being challenged by Nuri al-Maliki and his State of Law party who this week succeeded in getting a recount in Baghdad Province.

Uncertainty remains about former members of Saddam Hussein's Baathist Party who were successful in the election but should be regarded as ineligible in some people's minds. Even when such issues have been resolved there are likely to be long negotiations over coalition-forming. The remaining US troops in Iraq are due to withdraw by the end of August but there may not be an Iraqi government in place by then. What would America do in those circumstances? Stay or quit?