- The Washington Times - Monday, April 19, 2010

BAGHDAD (AP) — An Iraqi panel investigating election complaints ordered on Monday a recount of more than 2.5 million votes cast in Baghdad during the March 7 election, agreeing to a demand by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that could swing the outcome in his favor.

Mr. al-Maliki won 89 of 325 parliamentary seats in the election, coming in second behind former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi with 91 seats. Neither has been able to cobble together a majority coalition with the support of other parties yet, and in the meantime Mr. al-Maliki has been trying to alter the outcome of the vote through various court appeals and other challenges, and by trying to woo support away from Mr. Allawi.

Mr. al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc has claimed election fraud and demanded a recount in five provinces, including Baghdad which accounts for almost a fifth of parliamentary seats.

The recount was ordered by the Independent High Electoral Commission, a three-member panel that investigates election-related complaints, commission official Hamdia al-Hussaini said.

The order was handed down on the same day that powerful Shi’ite leader Ammar al-Hakim said he did not see either Mr. al-Maliki or Mr. Allawi as candidates who could succeed as prime minister because, in his view, they do not have enough support in Iraq or internationally.

Mr. al-Hakim’s Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council is part of the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), which came in third in the election. INA’s support is key for any leader to form a government and his remarks only added to the political uncertainty over who will be able to build a ruling coalition.

“We are talking about a person who should be accepted on a national level,” Mr. al-Hakim said in the interview at his palatial office in southeast Baghdad. “This is the most important point because the prime minister is not going to be a prime minister of his own party or his political movement, but for all of Iraq. … On such a basis, we find it’s difficult for Mr. Maliki or even Mr. Iyad Allawi to gain the needed acceptance.”

Mr. al-Hakim was careful to say he would not reject either candidate. But his comments added to the sense that the coalition wrangling could drag on for months. That could leave a political vacuum many fear creates space for militants to try to re-ignite violence as tens of thousands of U.S. troops move closer to the start of their final pullout from Iraq.

Mr. al-Maliki could close the two-seat gap with Mr. Allawi’s bloc with the recount in Baghdad, where the State of Law won 26 seats to 24 for Mr. Allawi’s Iraqiya party. INA also came in third in the capital, winning 17 seats.

With so few votes separating the front-runners, INA’s support could throw the win to either side.

Associated Press Writers David Rising and Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.

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