BAGHDAD, Iraq - An insurgent bomb attack on a convoy of U.S. troops and Iraqi National Guardsmen wounded seven Iraqis on Thursday, and elections officials they were close to certifying vote results and allocating seats for the National Assembly.
Electoral Commission official Adel al-Lami said results from the landmark Jan. 30 election would be announced at a press conference in Baghdad on Thursday.
The attack on the convoy occurred in Hawija, about 150 miles north of Baghdad, on the main road running north to Kirkuk, said Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammad Amin. No Americans were wounded, he said.
The commission first announced results from the ballot on Sunday. The clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance got 48 percent of the vote for the National Assembly, the Kurdish alliance got 26 percent and interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite supported by Washington, got 14 percent.
A deadline to file complaints expired Wednesday. Farid Ayar, a spokesman for the election commission, told Al-Arabia television that 47 complaints were filed and that most had been resolved.
If provisional results of the election stand, the United Iraqi Alliance will have 140 seats in the assembly, short of the two-thirds majority needed to control it. Building a coalition with the Kurdistan Alliance, which will likely hold 75 seats, will be crucial.
Once the results are certified, the present government must set a timetable for installing the new government. There have been no indications on how long the process, which is dependent on back-room dealmaking among the parties, might take.
The certification comes as top Shiite politicians prepare to choose a nominee for prime minister. A secret ballot is expected to take place Friday to decide a two-man race between Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Ahmad Chalabi.
The contrast between the two candidates is stark and reveals a division within the clergy-endorsed alliance, made up of 10 major political parties and various allied smaller groups.
Al-Jaafari, 58, is the leader of the religious Dawa Party, one of Iraq's oldest parties, known for its popularity and close ties to Iran. Although al-Jaafari is a moderate, his party's platform is conservative.
Chalabi, 58, who left Iraq as a teen, leads the Iraqi National Congress and had close ties to the Pentagon before falling out of favor last year after claims he passed intelligence information to Iran.
A secular Shiite, Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress is an umbrella for groups that included Iraqi exiles, Kurds and Shiites. Much of the supposed intelligence his group supplied on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction programs failed to pan out.
Al-Jaafari was considered the leading contender Wednesday, though Chalabi's aides said their man had enough votes to win.
A close aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiite Muslims, said the alliance's leaders will visit the cleric's office in Najaf to get his blessing for their choice. In the event they can't agree, al-Sistani will make the final decision, the aide said.
Kurdish parties have apparently agreed to support the alliance's candidate for prime minister in return for the largely ceremonial presidency. But officials said they would not accept a theocracy.
"We will reject and we won't allow the establishment of a theocratic state; we want separation between religion and state," said Noshirwan Mustafa, an aide to Jalal Talabani, the Sunni Kurd and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan expected to become president.
Sunni Arabs, favored under Saddam Hussein's rule, mostly stayed away from the polls. But the Shiites must move cautiously if they want to form an inclusive government.
The government that takes power will face the challenge of quelling a violent insurgency, largely being waged by Sunni extremists.
In western Baghdad, Iraqi and U.S. forces launched a joint raid, detaining seven suspected insurgents, Interior Ministry Capt. Sabah Yasin said.
Also Thursday, gunmen opened fire on patrolling Iraqi National Guard troops in Hillah, 60 miles south of the capital, sparking a gunfight that killed two suspected insurgents, Maj. Fatik Iyd said. Three Iraqi guardsmen were wounded.
The government announced that Iraqis will start taking a two-day weekend that will include Friday and Saturday. It did not give a reason for the change, which went into effect immediately for civil servants.
Iraq's government previously observed its weekend with a single day off on Friday, the Muslim sabbath. The government said that it would extend the six-hour workday to make up for the lost Saturday.