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March 22, 2010

Crisis looms as al-Maliki calls for recount in Iraq elections

BAGHDAD — Iraq's political process lurched toward crisis yesterday as the country's prime minister, president and interior minister threw their weight behind a ballot-by-ballot recount of the nation's parliamentary elections.

In addition, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose election slate is locked in a tight race with that of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, invoked his military powers as Iraq's commander in chief to insist that the Independent High Electoral Commission respond to the recount demand. He warned a failure to do so risked a return to the bloodshed that ripped the country asunder two years ago.

The prime minister insisted the credibility of the election was in danger, after his election bloc filed a fraud complaint last week that called for re-tallying all the votes.

The Iraqi election commission defended its results in a news conference Sunday night and said it did not intend a ballot-by-ballot recount. It expects final results Friday.

The commission also hit back at critics. "To come now and make allegations against the IHEC, I don't think this serves the interests of that person, or the elections process and even the political progression as a whole," said Faraj Haidari, the head of the commission.

In his statement released Sunday, al-Maliki said a response from the electoral commission to demands for a recount was necessary "(in order) to safeguard the political stability and to prevent the slipping of the security situation in the country and the resurgence of violence that was defeated only after efforts, sufferings and bloodshed."

Later, government spokesman Ali Dabbagh, a member of al-Maliki's electoral bloc, said, "We are not asking for new elections, but only a recount because there are worries about this process."

Suspicions and doubts about the elections pose a serious challenge to the United States' plan to withdrawal all but 50,000 troops from Iraq by the end of August. The recount demand comes despite statements from the U.S. Embassy and the United Nations that the election had been carried out in a credible fashion.

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