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Manual recount sought in Iraq election

BAGHDAD - Senior politicians from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ruling coalition warned yesterday that Shia-dominated southern Iraq could severely loosen its ties with Baghdad if the nation's electoral commission failed to meet its demand for a manual recount of parliamentary election results.

The politicians, who echoed al-Maliki's warning Sunday that sectarian violence could return without a recount, accused the U.S. Embassy of working against them. In turn, Western diplomats and advisers to the Iraqi government described al-Maliki's circle as terrified of losing power and said Iraq is entering a dangerous period.

Final results of the March 7 balloting are not yet available, but the Independent High Electoral Commission has made clear it does not intend to conduct a ballot-by-ballot recount. The U.S. Embassy and the United Nations have said the balloting appeared to be carried out in a credible fashion, with no evidence of widespread fraud.

An analysis of the latest figures by the U.S. military has projected the al-Maliki coalition losing the popular vote, but winning 90 parliament seats, compared with 87 seats for the Iraqiya list of his rival Ayad Allawi, a secular Shia and previous prime minister.

Such a narrow outcome would make it difficult for al-Maliki to cobble together a ruling coalition in parliament, observers say, resulting in the unease among al-Maliki supporters.

Sami Askari, a member of al-Maliki's inner circle and his State of Law election slate, described the Electoral Commission as a UN puppet. He also accused the CIA and elements of the State Department of working to bring Allawi, who has ties to the U.S. intelligence community, back to power.

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