BAGHDAD (AP) — 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-Qaida-inspired militants west of the capital, Baghdad.

Addressing a news conference in Baghdad, al-Maliki also invited his critics, including onetime Shiite allies, to put the bickering and rivalry of Wednesday’s election behind them and join him in a majority government.

Al-Maliki’s remarks reflected confidence that he would get another term in office following Wednesday’s balloting — Iraq’s first nationwide election since US troops withdrew in 2011 — and retain the post he has held since 2006.

The turnout from among Iraq’s 22 million eligible voters was estimated to have exceeded 60 percent on Wednesday, al-Maliki said. In Anbar, where al-Qaida-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.

Al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc was widely expected to win the most seats in the 328-member parliament but fall short of a majority — meaning he would have to cobble together a coalition, an undertaking that took nine months after the last elections, in 2010.

“This election defeated al-Qaida and the ISIL,” al-Maliki said, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, a splinter al-Qaida group whose fighters are battling government security forces in Anbar, a mainly Sunni province west of Baghdad. “It was a slap in the face of terrorism.”

Some of al-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 and see 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.

Also Thursday, al-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,” he said.

Election workers were counting the ballots, with first results expected in the coming days.

Al-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.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.