Monday, May 17, 2010
Recount in Iraq Preserves Victory for Maliki Rival
By ANTHONY SHADID New York Times BAGHDAD — A dispute over the counting of ballots in Iraq’s parliamentary elections in March came to a tentative end on Sunday, with the country’s election commission saying that a partial recount had preserved the narrow victory of the leading rival to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The announcement removed a stumbling block in the long-delayed process of forming a new government that will preside over Iraq as the American military withdraws. With the recount over, the country’s highest court can begin ratifying the results, a crucial step in opening the way for negotiations over the next prime minister. “We hope that no one else appeals so that we can be done with this,” Qassim al-Abboudi, a spokesman for the commission, said at a news conference. Mr. Maliki’s electoral bloc had demanded the recount after finishing narrowly behind a largely Sunni and secular coalition led by Ayad Allawi, a former interim prime minister. Mr. Maliki’s supporters claimed that numerous cases of fraud had tarnished the vote and that a recount might reverse the results for as many as 20 seats, making his coalition the winner. But in the news conference on Sunday, Mr. Abboudi said the recount in the populous province around the capital, Baghdad, did not change the initial results. Two candidates lost their seats to candidates from the same party, leaving the breakdown the same as it was in March: 91 seats for Mr. Allawi, 89 for Mr. Maliki. Mr. Maliki’s supporters suggested that the prime minister would abide by the recount, which found no widespread fraud. Mr. Maliki “wants to speed up the political process,” said a spokesman, Ali al-Mousawi. “As far as I know, he will respect the results.” His newly conciliatory stance may be due to shifting political ground in the last few weeks, when he formed a post-election alliance with another Shiite bloc, making it the largest coalition in Parliament. It also made Mr. Allawi’s wafer-thin lead in seats over Mr. Maliki more symbolic than practical, because most politicians believe that the new, broader Shiite alliance will take the lead in naming a prime minister. The new Shiite bloc is just four seats short of a majority in the 325-member Parliament. Mr. Allawi has continued to insist that the right to form a government belongs to his group. “I really don’t know how it will end,” he said in an interview. “But what I know is that we are not going to accept that the will of the Iraqi people is going to be confiscated.” Despite Mr. Allawi’s sagging fortunes, Mr. Maliki still faces an uphill battle to return as prime minister. He remains unpopular with the followers of Moktada al-Sadr, a populist cleric whose candidates finished second only to Mr. Maliki’s among Shiite voters. Even if Mr. Maliki does hold on to power, many Shiite politicians believe there will be an attempt to circumscribe his authority and give greater power to his cabinet, whose positions will be divided among the winners. Negotiations over the new government could last for months, adding to the atmosphere of uncertainty here. “If the government forms before September, that will put us in great shape,” said Qassem Daoud, a former minister and candidate who lost his race in March. Efforts to disqualify candidates for ties to the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein have also haunted the election, although Iraqi and American officials said last week that the campaign had ended for now. Ahmad Chalabi, the chairman of the committee that barred the candidates in a process that proved arbitrary and unpredictable, said he expected a court to ensure that all the winning candidates would enter Parliament. The protracted uncertainty over the election has raised worries that insurgents might try to reverse security gains in the country over the past two years, particularly as the United States withdraws almost half its troops from Iraq by the end of the summer. The insurgent group that serves as a front for Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia announced Sunday that it had replaced two senior leaders killed in a raid last month, in a sign that insurgents were seeking to reconstitute themselves after a series of defeats. And last week, more than 100 people were killed and hundreds more were wounded in attacks that included ambushes of police and military checkpoints in Baghdad and devastating bombings in three cities.