In Iraq, candidates seek an edge with post-election maneuvers

At least five Iraqis died in Karbala on Monday in simultaneous blasts targeting social service providers.
At least five Iraqis died in Karbala on Monday in simultaneous blasts targeting social service providers. (Ahmed Al-husseini/associated Press)
By Leila Fadel
Tuesday, March 30, 2010

BAGHDAD -- An Iraqi commission that removes government workers who are loyalists to the outlawed Baath Party announced Monday that it would contest the results of the March 7 parliamentary elections, a move sure to create further chaos in the aftermath of balloting that hardened Iraq's sectarian divide.

The Accountability and Justice Commission, run by two Shiite candidates, said that six people with loyalties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party won seats; the commission wants them and their votes thrown out.

That could also change the overall outcome of the election, cutting into the thin lead held by secular Shiite Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc over incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has already vowed to challenge the results. It could give Maliki the edge again, making it easier for him to claim the right to form Iraq's new government.

Allawi, himself a former prime minister, drew much of his support from Sunni Arabs who see him as less sectarian than other Shiite leaders. If the results involving the six candidates, at least two of which are from Allawi's bloc, are thrown out, Sunni Arabs could feel cheated and deem the election illegitimate, officials said.

"It would be civil war, absolutely no doubt," said Falah al-Naqib, a member of the Iraqiya political bloc who won a seat. "I think the United States and other allies should find a solution for this problem. Otherwise, we're seriously going for a civil war, and this time, it's a big mess."

When the commission barred more than 400 candidates in January for alleged Baathist loyalties, political blocs replaced many of them. Just before the elections, more than 50 replacement candidates were also disqualified. With little time, the electoral commission then decided to allow the people to run and deal with the issue later.

Ali al-Lami, executive director of the Accountability and Justice Commission, and a losing Shiite candidate, blamed Iraq's electoral commission for bowing to the pressure from the United Nations and the United States to allow the candidates to run in the first place. One of the winners was Najim al-Harbi, a top vote-getter in Diyala province despite being detained by forces said to be loyal to Maliki before the election. The commission is appealing the results through Iraq's judicial system.

"Even the votes that these candidates have won will be cancelled -- they will not be given to their parties or coalitions," said Lami, who was detained by the U.S. military in 2008 and accused of involvement in bombings in Baghdad. He has denied taking part and was released last year. "This goes for all 52 disqualified candidates, some of whose votes have been given to their parties -- and they must, by law and constitution, be canceled."

Officials from Iraqiya interpreted the move as the latest attempt by Maliki and other rivals to rob Allawi of his narrow lead. Allawi represents a new power structure of secular politics in Iraq, where political might has largely been in the hands of Shiite religious parties and the Kurds.

Many Shiites worry that Allawi's bloc is the vehicle for the outlawed Baath Party to return. Maliki's allies deny that this is an effort to garner more seats for themselves.

"If that happens, that's good luck for us," said Hajim al-Hassani, a spokesman for Maliki's State of Law bloc. "What do you expect? Everyone is going to accuse the others. At the end, they have to build a coalition to form the government whether they're number one or number two in the parliament."

Iraq's highest court recently clarified an ambiguous part of the constitution, ruling that either the largest electoral bloc or the largest merger of one or more groups after the election would form the government. Any political group will need the majority -- 163 seats -- of the next parliament to approve their cabinet and top executives.

Also Monday, in a sign of the violence Iraqis fear will overtake the nation as political battles ensue, two car bombs ripped through the holy southern city of Karbala. At least five people were killed and 64 wounded in the attacks, said Salim Kadhim, the spokesman of the health department in the province. The simultaneous blasts targeted an emergency service center and the education department, officials said.

Special correspondent Saad Sarhan contributed to this report from Najaf, Iraq.

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