Iraq’s Maliki rejects rival’s call for intervention

Baghdad–Iraq’s prime minister on Friday criticized his main rival in last month’s inconclusive election for wanting outside intervention, and denounced what he said was the foreign powers’ desire to stage a ballot box coup.

Nuri al-Maliki’s angry words added to a political crisis stirred up by attempts by Shia-led groups, including the premier’s bloc, to overturn a slim lead in a March 7 vote posted by a cross-sectarian alliance that won strong Sunni support.

The Sunni-backed list led by secular ex-premier Iyad Allawi called this week for an internationally monitored caretaker government after its two-seat election lead was threatened by a recount of votes in Baghdad and a bid to disqualify candidates.

Allawi’s Iraqiya alliance accused Maliki’s Shia-led government of trying to marginalize it and said the international community should organize a new election.

The political tensions and impasse after the election have left Iraq’s fragile stability vulnerable to attacks by insurgents. Bombs against checkpoints, a liquor shop and in Shia areas of Baghdad have killed dozens in the past week.

Maliki said on Friday that Iraqiya’s stance would harm Iraq’s sovereignty.

“This makes it clear that there is a regional and international project that wanted to stage a coup through the ballot box. Why else would there be all this complaining and weeping in the world over the recount issue?” Maliki said in the Shia holy city of Kerbala.

Many Iraqis were hoping that last month’s parliamentary election would help stabilize their war-damaged country and help it move ahead with rebuilding after years of war and sectarian bloodshed unleashed after the 2003 US-led invasion.

But the vote has instead left the country adrift in uncertainty with Shia-led, Sunni-backed and Kurdish factions jostling for the upper hand in the government coalition talks.

Maliki’s State of Law coalition won two seats fewer than Allawi’s alliance in the next 325-seat parliament. Alleging fraud, Maliki’s bloc successfully sought a recount of 2.5 million votes in Baghdad that could overturn Iraqiya’s lead.

Rubbing salt into Iraqiya’s wounds, a Shia-led commission whose aim is to prevent followers of Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath party from returning to power is challenging votes cast for candidates with alleged Baathists links, most from Iraqiya.

A review panel last Monday discarded the votes of 52 candidates and another ruling is expected next week that could cost Iraqiya a seat or two, depriving it of a chance to try to form the next government.

Iraqiya’s leaders, including Allawi, have been touring neighboring countries to drum up support from regional powers. Allawi met with both the Turkish and Egyptian presidents.

“Look at those delegations that move between countries asking (them) to interfere in a national issue that nobody should interfere in,” Maliki said.

“Some try to tempt us and say ‘let go of the recount demand and we will give you this or that’ and some tell us ‘we swear, we will hit the Green Zone with rockets if the recount process continued,” he said, referring to the heavily fortified government and diplomatic enclave in Baghdad.

“I tell everybody, respect the will and sovereignty of Iraq,” Maliki said.

If a recount in Baghdad, set to start on Monday, reverses Iraqiya’s lead, it would anger Sunnis. Himself a secular Shia, Allawi is viewed as a frontman for Sunni interests by Shias and as a defender of their rights by Sunnis.

A backlash by Sunnis, who have felt marginalized since losing the clout they enjoyed under Saddam, could reopen old sectarian wounds and tip the country back into widespread conflict, just as violence starts to subside.

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