Fresh appeals lodged in Iraqi election impasse

BAGHDAD Sun May 23, 2010 1:05pm EDT

An Iraqi worker with the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) checks a box containing ballots of parliamentary elections during the recounting process in Baghdad May 14, 2010. REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen

An Iraqi worker with the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) checks a box containing ballots of parliamentary elections during the recounting process in Baghdad May 14, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Mohammed Ameen

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Election officials in Iraq said Sunday they had received new appeals stemming from March's parliamentary election but did not expect more than a brief delay in ratification of the results.

A political vacuum since the inconclusive vote is fuelling tension, with a proposed Shi'ite alliance causing concern that minority Sunnis could be pushed to the sidelines.

A cross-sectarian bloc led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi won a two-seat victory, with the heavy backing of Sunni voters. Allawi has warned that any attempt to marginalize his bloc in a new government could trigger renewed sectarian violence.

The major Shi'ite groups, incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance, which has close ties to Shi'ite neighbor Iran, have announced plans to unite to form the largest bloc in parliament.

Allawi, a secular Shi'ite, visited Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shi'ite cleric, Sunday in the holy city of Najaf in southern Iraq.

In the capital, election officials said they had received four new appeals from candidates who lost their seats in the new 325-seat parliament after a recount of votes cast in Baghdad.

"We have received four appeals from candidates -- not blocs -- and certainly this will delay sending the results to the federal (Supreme) court for approval," said Amal al-Biraqdar, deputy head of Independent High Electoral Committee (IHEC).

Monday is the last day for electoral appeals, which the court of appeals should rule on within 10 days. The results will then be sent to the Supreme Court for certification.

IHEC commissioner Saad al-Rawi said he did not expect the court of appeals to take long in reviewing the latest complaints, "a day or two, not more."

The delay in the formation of a new government has rattled nerves, and the prospect of the Sunni minority losing out on a place in power is fuelling fears of a slide back into broader sectarian bloodshed.

The alliance between State of Law and INA would be just four seats short of a governing majority in the parliament, but they have yet to agree on who becomes prime minister.

Speaking to reporters in Najaf, Allawi said Sistani was not taking sides.

"He does not support a certain bloc or oppose any bloc. he does not have a veto against any side," he said. Sistani, he added, "stresses the need to accelerate the formation of the government."

A source within Sistani's office said the Grand Ayatollah had urged "all blocs" to contribute to a new government.

(Additional reporting by Muhanad Mohammed in Baghdad and Khalid Farhan in Najaf; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Alison Williams)

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