750 000 Iraqi votes in question
Baghdad - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's political party said on Sunday its investigation into the March 7 parliamentary election has thrown into question around 750 000 votes, enough to change the results of the nationwide poll.
The State of Law alliance trailed by just two seats behind former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's party in the vote, which produced no clear winner because neither side got enough seats to govern alone.
Al-Maliki has demanded an official recount as both sides struggle to cobble together a ruling coalition.
"We estimate the volume of vote manipulation is up to 750 000 votes," Hajim al-Hasani, the spokesperson of the State of Law Alliance, told reporters in Baghdad.
"This number could change the election results."
More than 11.5 million votes were cast in the election, which international observers said was fair and transparent. An appeals committee is reviewing the complaints, but there is no timetable for a decision.
Al-Hasani said State of Law examined ballots from five of Iraq's 18 provinces - Basra, Baghdad, Qadissiya, Anbar and Ninevah - and that irregularities include unsigned ballots and discrepancies in signatures.
He said his party estimates they were cheated out of up to 15 seats.
Sunday's announcement will likely worsen the country's political deadlock, which many fear is fuelling a recent wave of deadly violence in an around Baghdad.
The most brutal attacks in the past two weeks include a triple suicide bombing outside foreign embassies in the capital, the execution-style slaying of Sunni villagers and a slew of explosions that ripped through residential areas.
More than 120 people died in the attacks.
On Sunday, police said three schoolchildren were killed in a roadside bombing north of Baghdad.
Al-Maliki, who has led a government dominated by religious Shi'ites for the past four years, is facing a serious challenge from Allawi, a secular Shi'ite looking to transcend the country's ethnic and sectarian divides.
Allawi's list drew on heavy Sunni support to come out ahead, with 91 seats to al-Maliki's 89.
Allawi's Iraqiya party held a news conference on Sunday calling on Iraq's judicial authorities to remain independent and uninfluenced by political pressure.
"We will be committed to the election results due to be announced by judicial authorities if the appeal is carried out with professionalism and objectivity," he said.