updated 2/10/2006 3:09:25 PM ET 2006-02-10T20:09:25

Iraq's election chief started the clock Friday on the long-awaited formation of a new government, announcing final certified results for the country's Dec. 15 parliamentary polls.

Friday's announcement by Adil al-Lami, head of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, confirmed initial results released last month. The certification means the new 275-seat parliament, the first post-Saddam Hussein assembly with a four-year mandate, must convene within two weeks.

Intense negotiations are under way to form a national unity government that would see dominant Shiites and Kurds welcome Sunni Arabs into powerful positions.

Al-Lami said the dominant Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, won 128 seats. The Kurdish Coalition of parties led by President Jalal Talabani and Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani were the other big winners, claiming 53 seats.

He said two Sunni Arab blocs, the Iraqi Accordance Front and the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, received 44 and 11 seats respectively. Sunni Arabs now have three times more seats than in the outgoing parliament.

Sunni Arabs form the backbone of the raging insurgency, and bringing them into the government is seen as a way to reduce the violence.

Under Iraq's new constitution, Talabani not only must convene the new assembly, he must also name a new prime minister in the next 15 days. Parliament then has 30 days to elect a new national president.

If the Iraqis take the maximum time allowed for each step, it would be May before a government is in place. Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite widely mentioned as possible prime minister, has said he expected to finish the talks by mid-March.

But sectarian violence threatens the fragile U.S.-backed political negotiations. Armed Shiite Muslim and Sunni Arab militants have been targeting each other in a worsening campaign of killings and kidnappings.

A car bomb exploded Friday outside a Sunni Muslim mosque in southwestern Baghdad, killing at least four Iraqis and wounding 21. Gunmen wearing Iraqi police uniforms kidnapped a Sunni Arab mosque preacher in Baghdad.

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