BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqis nervously awaited results from the country’s March 7 election, set to be released on Friday, amid a tight battle between two main rival blocs and fears of a nascent political crisis.
With the national election commission set to announce final results nearly three weeks after the vote took place, sitting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has cried foul and demanded a manual recount, becoming the most prominent of a large number of politicians who have alleged fraud.
While electoral authorities have rebuffed the incumbent’s request, Maliki’s State of Law Alliance has threatened not to recognise results it sees as tainted, potentially plunging Iraq into a major political crisis.
The tension was palpable in Baghdad on Thursday, where most discussions on the streets revolved around the elections, revealing the fears of many Iraqis of a return to violence in the event of a political standoff.
“Everyone is only talking about elections,” said Abdul Jalili, a 55-year-old pensioner at the capital’s Liberation Square, one of the city’s biggest.
“We think that the forces involved are in the process of assembling their rank and file for a confrontation, that there will be more violence.
“I do not think we are going to see a peaceful transfer of power.”
Iraq was engulfed in communal bloodshed from 2006 to 2007 that saw tens of thousands killed, and while the overall levels of violence have dropped dramatically since then, hundreds of Iraqis are still killed every month as a result of attacks.
“People are scared that the losers will refuse to accept defeat and provoke violence,” said Kamel Mutlak, a 25-year-old traffic policeman.
“And in the end, it will be all Iraqis who will have lost.”
State of Law has organised several demonstrations in recent days in predominantly Shiite provinces in Iraq’s south, where it performed well in the parliamentary election.
Council chiefs in 10 central and southern provinces, including Baghdad, who belong to the bloc published a statement on Wednesday threatening “a major escalation” if Maliki’s recount demand is not met. They did not elaborate.
“It is normal to see tensions today because the process did not proceed normally,” said Ali al-Adeeb, a State of Law candidate.
“We have information on the existence of fraud within the commission.”
Adeeb predicted: “The formation of the government will be complicated and delayed.”
For his part, Maliki warned on Sunday that his recount request was needed to “protect political stability… and prevent a return to violence,” in a statement which pointedly noted that he remained head of the country’s armed forces.
From the perspective of the Iraqiya bloc of secular ex-premier Iyad Allawi, the incumbent’s main challenger, Maliki’s demand was intended merely to sow discord.
“Some of those in the State of Law Alliance are trying to spark chaos in Iraq’s streets,” said Haidar al-Mullah, a spokesman for Iraqiya.
State of Law and Iraqiya are neck-and-neck in the race to be the biggest single bloc in parliament and have first cracking at trying to form a government.
They were both on course to win 91 seats in the 325-member parliament under Iraq’s complicated system of proportional representation after 95 percent of ballots had been counted, according to AFP calculations.
The election comes less than six months before the United States is due to withdraw all of its combat troops from Iraq and Washington will be keen to see a smooth outcome.