- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 29, 2010

BAGHDAD (AP) — Recounting all the ballots from the key Baghdad province will take about two to three weeks, Iraq’s election commission said Thursday, further delaying the formation of a long-awaited new government.

Since Iraq’s landmark parliamentary elections on March 7, the country’s political factions have been wrestling over the results of the close-fought contest. But little progress has been made toward forming a new government, prompting fears the political instability could open the way for renewed violence just as U.S. combat forces prepare to go home.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite coalition narrowly lost by two seats to former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s bloc. Mr. al-Maliki has challenged the results, alleging fraud and issuing a flurry of appeals for recounts.

While rejecting appeals for a recount in other provinces, Iraq’s judiciary approved one in Baghdad, a key province and home to nearly a quarter of the country’s population.

There are 68 seats in Baghdad up for grabs in the new 325-seat Parliament, and new vote tallies could easily erase Mr. Allawi’s razor-thin lead.

Mr. Allawi’s supporters have cried foul over the recount and say Mr. al-Maliki is trying to subvert “the will of the people” with his various challenges to the results.

Iraq’s disaffected Sunni minority overwhelming backed Mr. Allawi’s list, and it is feared that a reversal of his victory could prompt many to lose faith in the political process and possibly take up arms against the government once more.

Election commission official Hamdia al-Hussaini told reporters that the Baghdad recount will begin Monday for all Baghdad ballot boxes.

“We estimate it will take about two to three weeks, depending on the skills of employees doing the counting,” Mr. al-Hussaini said.

He said the recount would take place in the Rasheed Hotel in the Green Zone, which is also home to the U.S. Embassy and the prime minister’s office, and would be carried out by Iraqis from all provinces in the country.

The head of the election commission, Faraj al-Haidari, also said that there will be a decision on a Kurdish call for a recount in the northern town of Hawija on Monday.

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