Iraq PM slams UN over election
Baghdad - Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki sharply criticised the UN on Sunday over its inaction on his vote fraud allegations, after results showed his bloc finished second in Iraq's general election.
Maliki's remarks came as rival Iyad Allawi, whose bloc finished with two more seats than the incumbent's alliance in the March 7 poll, opened talks with political foes to form a coalition government.
"If I were in Melkert's position and in front of this wave of problems, I would have said, 'You should go all the way through (to detect fraud)'," he said in a television interview, referring to UN envoy Ad Melkert.
"But Melkert has said, 'Well, it is difficult because of time.'"
Maliki has called for a nationwide manual recount of ballots, claiming irregularities in the counting procedure, but Melkert and Iraq's election commission have downplayed the fraud allegations.
The complete results, which were only released on Friday, showed Maliki's State of Law Alliance finished with 89 seats in the 325-member Council of Representatives, two fewer than fellow Shi'ite Allawi's secular Iraqiya bloc.
"I asked the IHEC (Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission) to manually recount - they refused, and the United Nations was more vehemently against my request than the IHEC," Maliki said.
"The United Nations should have been more keen and more pushy to the IHEC to accept the request of the people" for a manual recount, he added.
The incumbent prime minister said late on Friday that the election results were "not final" and refused to accept them.
Shortly before the results were released, though, Melkert hailed the polls as "credible" and called on all parties to accept the outcome.
"It is the UN's considered opinion that these elections have been credible and we congratulate the people of Iraq for this success," he said.
The United States has also given its blessing to the election and the results, with US Ambassador Christopher Hill and General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, saying in a statement there was "no evidence of widespread or serious fraud".
The results come around five months before the United States is due to withdraw all of its combat troops from Iraq, and Washington was keen to see a smooth outcome from the election.
It could take up to two weeks for Iraq's Supreme Court to certify the results, as parties can still submit complaints to the election commission.
"I expect him (Maliki) to wage a pretty aggressive campaign to present his challenges, argue his case in the hopes of changing the ultimate seat allocation that goes to court for certification," said Gary Grappo, the head of the US embassy's political section.
Maliki "will pursue all means at his disposal through the established judicial process".
On Saturday, Allawi confirmed that his bloc had launched discussions with a variety of political groups in Iraq, noting that he would hold talks with all "political forces, without exception".
"There must be a strong government, capable of taking decisions which serve the Iraqi people, and bring peace and stability to Iraq," he said.
Neither Iraqiya nor State of Law clinched an overall parliamentary majority and a protracted period of coalition building, which could take months, is now expected.
Security officials have warned a lengthy period of coalition building could give insurgent groups a chance to further destabilise Iraq, with bombings northeast of Baghdad that killed 52 people on Friday illustrating the concerns.