Iraqiya list has slender majority but two of its newly elected MPs have been ruled out over links to Ba'ath party of Saddam era
Iraq's election results have been thrown into further doubt after 52 candidates were disqualified, threatening the slight lead of challenger Ayad Allawi and risking heightened sectarian tensions.
Two candidates were ruled out on grounds of links to the outlawed Ba'ath party by a judicial review panel of the independent electoral commission. Both were elected for Allawi's Iraqiya list, which won two seats more than the State of Law bloc led by Nouri al-Maliki, the incumbent prime minister, in the 7 March polls. Spokesmen for Iraqiya said they would be replaced by members of the same list.
Observers said they expected a more important decision when the panel rules tomorrow on up to nine more winning candidates. Maliki's list stands to benefit most from any significant changes.
"The ruling of the review panel is politically motivated and could be detrimental to the whole democratic process in Iraq," warned al-Iraqiya's Mustafa al-Hiti.
The commission announced that a partial vote recount would begin next week.
Iraqiya won 91 seats compared with 89 won by al-Maliki's bloc. Allawi's allies have said they do not believe the final outcome will be dramatically different but fear a resurgence of sectarian anger.
The panel, chaired by Ahmed Chalabi, a Shia former deputy prime minister who was close to the US before the 2003 invasion, was set up to examine ties to Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party, dominated by Iraq's Sunni minority.
There have already been weeks of negotiations to build a coalition between the different political groupings in the 325-seat council of representatives, but without apparent success.
The delay in forming a government has damaged hopes for improved stability, including badly needed investment in the Iraqi oil sector by foreign firms.
The US, concerned that the inconclusive result and power vacuum will hold up the withdrawal of its remaining combat forces, is reportedly seeking to persuade Allawi and Maliki to form a coalition government and split the premiership between them for two years each.
The US is expected to withdraw its remaining troops by the end of 2011 under the terms of a status of forces agreement signed by George Bush before he left the presidency. Deadly bomb attacks last week, in the worst violence since the election have underlined the depth of the crisis.