Iraq begins manual recount of votes from disputed election

KIRKUK, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi authorities began recounting votes on Tuesday from May’s disputed parliamentary election, officials said, a step toward forming a new government after weeks of delays.

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Counting started in the ethnically mixed northern oil-producing province of Kirkuk, the election commission said, and at least six other provinces were expected to follow suit in coming days.

Parliament ordered a full recount last month after a government report concluded there were widespread violations. As a result, political blocs began heated talks about the formation of the next government.

A panel of judges overseeing the recount later limited its scope, ruling that it would only cover suspect ballots flagged in formal complaints or official reports on fraud.

Overseas votes cast in Iran, Turkey, Britain, Lebanon, Jordan, the United States and Germany will also be recounted, the panel added.

Representatives from the United Nations and foreign embassies will attend the process, as will local and international observers.

One person was killed and 20 wounded in Kirkuk on Sunday when a suicide car bomb went off near a storage site housing ballot boxes. Police sources said the warehouse was not damaged.

The initial results in Kirkuk were disputed by the Turkmen and Arab communities of the region which is also inhabited by a large Kurdish population.

The election commission said last month that initial results from Kirkuk indicated a win for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a historic Kurdish party.

In October, Iraqi forces backed by Shi’ite militias dislodged Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who had seized Kirkuk in 2014, preventing its capture by Islamic State militants who had overrun Iraqi army positions in northern and western Iraq.

The Iraqi offensive was in response to a Sept. 25 referendum on Kurdish independence in which Kurds overwhelmingly voted for independence.

The referendum was held by the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government both in areas recognized by Baghdad as falling under its authority as well as other areas claimed by both the central government and the KRG that the latter seized in 2014, including Kirkuk.

Reporting by Mustafa Mahmoud; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg