BAGHDAD: Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Thursday that a high turnout in parliament elections the previous day was a "slap in the face of terrorism" as government forces battle al-Qaeda-inspired militants west of the capital, Baghdad.
Maliki, seeking a third term following his country's first polls since US troops withdrew, faces significant opposition from within his own Shiite community, as well as minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds.
He has been criticized over a marked deterioration in security as well as rampant corruption, high unemployment and what his rivals say has been insufficient improvement in basic services.
But with vote counting having only just started and final results not expected for at least two weeks, he said "we have an ability to pass the 165 (seat threshold)" required to form a majority government.
"We have confidence that we will achieve a political majority."
The turnout from among Iraq's 22 million eligible voters was estimated to have exceeded 60 percent on Wednesday, Maliki said. In Anbar, where al-Qaeda-inspired militants control some parts, the turnout was around 50 percent, he added.
Although the election commission has yet to announce official figures, it was a high turnout, given the pre-election concerns that fear of violence could keep many voters at home.
"This election defeated al-Qaeda and the ISIL," Maliki said, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, a splinter al-Qaeda group whose fighters are battling government security forces in Anbar, a mainly Sunni province west of Baghdad.
Some of Maliki's former Shiite backers have accused him of trying to amass power for himself, but many in the majority sect see no alternative to the 63-year-old prime minister. He enjoys crucial support of neighboring powerhouse Iran, and there are speculations he could use that backing to push discontented Shiite factions into supporting his leadership for another term.
However, many Sunni Arabs distrust him, seeing him as too close to Shiite Iran, while Kurds are irked by what they view as his meddling in the affairs of their self-ruled region in northern Iraq.
The premier insisted he was willing to give up the post if he was unable to form a government, saying: "My mother did not give birth to me as a minister or a prime minister."
"I am not interested in this subject [of being prime minister]," he said, before adding: "At the same time... if I were the choice, I would consider myself obliged to respond."
Also Thursday, Maliki said he would open talks with all blocs but would not be searching for a broad-based coalition as has been the case the past decade, when governments included Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
A majority government that can operate effectively is what he'll be looking for, he said. A "national unity" government is an "experiment that we will use all our energy and effort not to repeat."
Maliki's bloc is tipped to win the most seats, but the consensus among analysts is that no single party will gain an outright majority. Consequently, Iraq's various political alliances and communal groups will have to form coalitions.
Maliki declined to speculate on how his bloc fared in the election, saying he would leave the election commission to announce the results. The bloc won 89 seats in the last election in 2010.
Election workers are counting the ballots with the first results expected in the coming days.