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Baghdad vote recount to take 2 to 3 weeks

Iraq's election officials say that a recount of the Baghdad ballots could take up to three weeks as a car bomb killed eight people in the capital.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Iraq's election officials said Thursday that a recount of the Baghdad ballots could take up to three weeks as a car bomb killed eight people in the capital, highlighting again the tenuous security situation while the chaos arising from the March 7 parliamentary vote drags on.

The timeline — possibly even longer than it took to count the whole country's ballots after the March 7 election— means another delay for an election process that has already dragged on for weeks and threatens to undermine the country's fragile stability.

Since Iraq's landmark parliamentary elections on March 7, the country's political factions have been wrestling over the results of the close-fought contest. But little progress has been made toward forming a new government, prompting fears of renewed violence just as U.S. combat forces prepare to go home.

"I can't predict when the final results will be ratified by the Supreme Court as many things still need to be done," the head of Independent High Electoral Commission, Faraj al-Haidari, told a press conference.

Lost by two seats
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite coalition narrowly lost by two seats to former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's bloc. Al-Maliki has challenged the results, alleging fraud and issued a flurry of appeals for recounts.

While rejecting recount requests in other provinces, Iraq's judiciary approved one for Baghdad — a key province and home to nearly a quarter of the country's population.

There are 68 seats in Baghdad up for grabs in the new 325-seat parliament, and new vote tallies could easily erase Allawi's razor-thin lead.

Allawi's supporters have cried foul and say that al-Maliki is trying to subvert "the will of the people" with his various challenges to the results.

The three-judge committee overseeing election-related disputes will also make a decision on May 10 whether to bar nine winning candidates for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's ruling party, al-Haidari said. The names were recommended by the Accountability and Justice Commission that vets all politicians for ties to the Baath Party.

"Since the commission continues with its work then there could be more names to come," al-Haidari cautioned.

Meanwhile, the court will rule on Monday on whether to accede to Kurdish demands for a recount in the largely Sunni northern town of Hawija.

Iraq's disaffected Sunni minority overwhelmingly backed Allawi's list and it is feared that a reversal of his victory could prompt many to lose faith in the political process and possibly take up arms against the government once more.

Bomb went off near liquor stores
In an example of the type of violence that once gripped the country, the bombing Thursday in southwestern Baghdad killed eight people and injured 20, according to medical and police officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The car bomb went off near a pair of liquor stores in the area. The target was not immediately known, but stores selling alcohol have often been hit by militants who object to the consumption of alcohol on religious grounds.

Election commission official Hamdia al-Hussaini told reporters that the Baghdad recount will begin Monday for all Baghdad ballot boxes.

"We estimate it will take about two to three weeks, depending on the skills of employees doing the counting," al-Hussaini said.

She said the recount would take place in the Rasheed Hotel in the city's heavily protected Green Zone, which is also home to the U.S. Embassy and the prime minister's office. It will be carried out by Iraqis from all provinces in the country.

"God willing, the recount process will be a fair and transparent and according to the international standards," al-Haidari said.