Members of Al-Iraqiyah, the front-running political bloc in Iraq's parliamentary elections, are meeting in Baghdad to plan a response to a ruling that has thrown the outcome of the March 7 vote into question and driven the country into deeper political turmoil.
The April 26 ruling by the three-member Justice and Accountability Panel in Baghdad disqualified 52 candidates because of their ties to Saddam Hussein's banned Ba'ath Party.
At least one of those disqualified was a winning candidate from former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's Al-Iraqiyah bloc, which says it's being targeted by officials and religious parties who do not want Allawi to take power.
The ruling has cast doubt on the slim lead of Allawi's alliance, which won strong backing from Iraq's Sunnis.
Iraqi political leaders, meanwhile, are waiting for the judicial panel to issue another ruling as early as today on whether to disqualify up to nine other winning candidates alleged to have ties with the Ba'ath Party. Seven are reported to be from Al-Iraqiyah.
Changing The Balance
Earlier this month, the same panel had ordered a recount of votes in Baghdad that could further influence the composition of parliament.
According to the initial official results, Allawi's cross-sectarian Al-Iraqiyah bloc won 91 of the 325 seats in parliament -- just two seats ahead of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law bloc.
Although Allawi is a Shi'a, his bloc includes Sunni as well as Shi'ite politicians and received substantial support from Iraq's Sunni community.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's bloc hopes to take advantage of the rulings.
But Maliki's Shi'ite bloc challenged the official results -- winning decisions for both the recount and the disqualification of Sunni candidates with ties to the Ba'ath Party.
Allawi said on April 26 that Al-Iraqiyah's lawyers have been instructed to appeal the decision to invalidate all votes cast for the 52 candidates. Allawi said he was confident that the legal appeal would be successful.
"Unfortunately, there have been some activities aiming to divert the political process and they tried to twist the process within the constitution," Allawi said. "But there are legal, political, and legitimate ways [to deal with such activities]."Politicized Process?
But Allawi appeared less confident that the procedures being followed were fair -- saying Al-Iraqiyah is worried that the political process is "now in the hands of a group of people from the Iraqi judiciary."
Allawi said legal challenges also would be addressed directly to the United Nations, because of what he called the politicization of legal rulings within Iraq.
"We are going to call on the United Nations to bear its responsibility, because Iraq is still under the mandate of Chapter 7 of the Security Council," Allawi said, "and we need the United Nations to intervene to salvage the political process, because it has been politicized and the counting and recounting has been politicized."
The Baghdad panel's rulings come before the start next week of a recount of votes in the capital. Changes to the initial results stemming from the recount and disqualifications could enrage Sunnis who saw Al-Iraqiyah's success as a vindication of their claim to greater political clout.
Sunni resentment about their fall from power after the ousting of Saddam Hussein in 2003 helped fuel bloody sectarian violence and a fierce insurgency after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.Political Gridlock
Since the initial results of the election were announced by Iraq's election commission, no bloc has been able to put together a parliamentary coalition that would control the 163-seat majority needed to form Iraq's next government.
The Iraqi National Alliance, a coalition of mainly Shi'ite groups, won 70 seats, and the Kurdistan Alliance, made up of the autonomous Kurdish region's two dominant blocs, won 43 seats. Another 17 seats were won by independents and candidates from smaller parties.
The last 15 seats were to be awarded to members of religious and ethnic minorities, according to quotas. Under the Iraqi Constitution, one-quarter of parliament's seats should be filled by women.
But the exact distribution of parliamentary seats is now unclear as a result of the disqualifications and the recount in Baghdad.
Amid the stalemate over attempts to build a governing coalition, politically motivated violence has been on the rise across Iraq during April -- raising concerns of rights groups around the world.
The U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, Christopher Hill, also has expressed concern about delays that, almost seven weeks after the election, have left Iraq no closer to forming a government. written by Ron Synovitz, with agency reports