The Los Angeles Times
In an embarrassing rejection of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's efforts to overturn his rival's lead in Iraq's inconclusive parliamentary election, a laborious manual recount of votes in Baghdad has turned up no evidence of electoral fraud and will not change the final outcome, officials said Friday.
The recount was ordered nearly a month ago after Maliki's Shiite-dominated electoral slate alleged that as many as 750,000 ballots had been manipulated, with the worst violations occurring in Baghdad.
Had the allegations been upheld, the recount could have eroded the two-seat lead of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's faction. Allawi, a secular Shiite supported by Sunni Arabs, is claiming the right to form the next government as the head of the largest, if not majority, bloc in parliament.
Iraq's election commission announced that the recount of Baghdad's 2.5 million votes had found no fraud. Officials familiar with the process said that though there would be some minor adjustments to the final tally, due to be announced Monday, none was attributable to fraud and they were not sufficient to alter the overall result, which gave 91 seats in the 325-member parliament to Allawi's Iraqiya bloc and 89 to Maliki's State of Law coalition.
"There is no evidence that there was manipulation, or forgery or any grievous mistake," commissioner Qassem Aboudi said at a news conference.
Khalid Asadi, an official with Maliki's coalition, said the prime minister would await the release of the tally before deciding whether to take any further steps to challenge the results.
The recount, conducted by dozens of workers in the cavernous ballroom of a Baghdad hotel, has delayed the final certification of the results of the March 7 election. That is a source of intense frustration for U.S. officials, who hope a new government will be in place by the end of August, when the American military is due to complete its withdrawal of nearly 50,000 combat troops.
U.S. officials say the pullout, which will leave 50,000 troops in Iraq as advisors and trainers until the end of 2011, is on track regardless of whether a new government is formed. "We are on pace to be at 50,000 by Sept. 1, as the president directed," said military spokesman Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza.