CAIRO - The surprisingly strong election showing by a secular, nationalist coalition in Iraq has provided a sudden opening for the mostly Sunni Arab world to curtail Iranian influence in Iraq, something that has been a source of serious alarm for the United States and its Arab allies since 2003.
The banner headline in Asharq al-Awsat, an influential newspaper in Saudi Arabia, said it all - "The Awakening of Moderation in Iraq" - offering an immediate endorsement of Iraq's top vote-getter by the regional Sunni Arab powerhouse.
The Iraqiya coalition led by Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who has campaigned for better ties with the Arab world and keeping neighboring Iran at a distance, won 91 of the new legislature's 325 seats, edging Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's mainly Shiite bloc by only two seats. Allawi was prime minister in 2004-05.
The narrow win foreshadowed possibly months of hard-nosed negotiations over the formation of a new government. But Allawi's numerical victory was triumph enough for the mostly Sunni Arab regimes that have been wary of Shiite-dominated Iraqi governments since the 2003 U.S. invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
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