Recount affirms narrow victory of Iraqi challenger
Iraq`s electoral commission affirmed the victory of a Sunni-backed bloc in the March election.
Baghdad: Iraq`s electoral commission on Sunday affirmed the victory of a Sunni-backed bloc in the March election after a partial recount of votes in Baghdad failed to back up the Shiite prime minister`s claims of fraud.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded the recount after losing out by two seats to challenger Ayad Allawi. Baghdad province accounts for so many seats in parliament that a significant change in the vote tally could have tilted the overall results in al-Maliki`s favor.
"I hope that all political blocks are satisfied now that the electoral process was honest and all allegations of fraud and forgery were totally incorrect," electoral official Qassim al-Abboudi told reporters.
The recount of the 2.5 million Baghdad votes and other challenges to the March 7 election have prevented the seating of Iraq`s new 325-member parliament and raised fears that insurgents will try to exploit the political vacuum caused by the prolonged political bickering to unleash a new wave of violence just as US troops prepare to go home.
While the recount results were a setback for al-Maliki, they do not give Allawi the mandate to form the next government. Neither coalition has been able to secure the 163-seat majority needed to do so.
Al-Maliki appears close, however, after his State of Law bloc formed an alliance early this month with another Shiite coalition, the Iranian-backed Iraqi National Alliance. Together, the Shiite allies are only four seats short of the needed majority.
The alliance is already struggling with internal bickering, but if their agreement holds, the Shiite parties are almost certain to form the next government, possibly cutting out Allawi`s Iraqiya list altogether.
The difference in the Baghdad recount amounted to about 3,000 votes, al-Abboudi said, which did not change al-Maliki`s two-seat win over Allawi in Baghdad or the overall outcome across the country.
The election results must still be ratified by Iraq`s Supreme Court and other challenges to the election results that have delayed the formation of a new government also need to be resolved.
Al-Abboudi said the results from the recount can be appealed, but added "we hope that no one will do that."
Baghdad accounts for about a fifth of the parliament seats. Al-Maliki beat out Allawi in Baghdad but not enough to give him the lead around the country.
Allawi`s party gained heavy support from Iraq`s minority Sunni community in the election, and the bloc`s members said they were satisfied with the recount`s results.
"We are happy with the results that are compatible to the previous ones," said Maysoun al-Damlouji, a spokeswoman for the Allawi`s bloc.
Khalid al-Assadi, a spokesman for al-Maliki`s State of Law coalition said the bloc was evaluating the situation and seeking a "proper decision" that could include appealing Sunday`s announcement on the Baghdad recount.
"All options are open for us, including appealing again," al-Assadi said.
Meanwhile, the insurgent group that commands al-Qaida in Iraq named a new leader to replace their former commander, who was killed in a joint US-Iraqi raid in April near Saddam Hussein`s hometown Tikrit.
The deaths were billed by US and Iraqi authorities as a severe blow to the insurgent group which has responded with a spate of bombings and shootings that authorities have said are designed to show the group`s continued relevance.
The Islamic State of Iraq said Sunday it has chosen Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Qurashi as emir, or leader, according to an announcement posted on a militant website.
Al-Qurashi replaces Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who was killed by US and Iraqi forces on April 18 along with al Qaeda in Iraq`s last leader, Egyptian Abu Ayyub al-Masri.
The group also named Abu Abdullah al-Hassani al-Qurashi as deputy to the emir and prime minister. The two men are not related, but both use a last name that implies descent from the Prophet Muhammad`s tribe, Quraish. According to the group`s ideology, its leader should be a descendant of Quraish.
"The two virtuous sheiks have deep knowledge of theological sciences and ... jihad," the statement said. "We ask God to help them continue the road of their predecessors, the martyr sheiks."
Iraqi authorities have blamed Sunni insurgents for recent attacks targeting Shiites and accuse al Qaeda of trying to provoke a backlash against ordinary Sunnis to re-ignite sectarian fighting that brought the country to the brink of civil war in 2006-2007.
A measure of fragile calm has returned in the past two years. But there are fears of a resurgence in sectarian bloodshed after inconclusive elections in March raised tensions between Shiites and Sunnis over who will control the next government.