BAGHDAD - Senior politicians from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ruling coalition warned yesterday that Shiite-dominated southern Iraq could severely loosen its ties with Baghdad if the nation's electoral commission failed to meet its demand for a manual recount of parliamentary election results.
The politicians, who echoed Maliki's warning Sunday that sectarian violence could return without a recount, accused the U.S. Embassy of working against them. In turn, Western diplomats and advisers to the Iraqi government described Maliki's circle as terrified of losing power and said Iraq was entering a dangerous period.
Final results of the March 7 balloting are not yet available, but the Independent High Electoral Commission has made clear it does not intend to conduct a ballot-by-ballot recount. The U.S. Embassy and the United Nations have said that the balloting appeared to be carried out in a credible fashion, with no evidence of widespread fraud.
An analysis of the latest figures by the U.S. military has projected the Maliki coalition losing the popular vote but winning 90 parliament seats, compared with 87 seats for the Iraqiya list of his rival Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite and previous prime minister. Such a narrow outcome would make it difficult for Maliki to cobble together a ruling coalition in parliament, observers say, resulting in the unease among Maliki supporters.
Sami Askari, a member of Maliki's inner circle and his State of Law election slate, described the Electoral Commission as a U.N. puppet. He also accused the CIA and elements of the State Department as working to bring Allawi, who has ties to the U.S. intelligence community, back into power.
"The Americans told me six months ago, they said that the CIA and State Department are working on bringing back Allawi," Askari said. "Many believe this."
Askari referred repeatedly to the notion of a plot to bring down Maliki's coalition and install Allawi's slate, which includes figures associated with the late dictator Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime. Askari said that if there were no recount, many Shiites would refuse to support a central government they feared heralded the resurrection of Hussein's Baath party, which tormented the Shiite majority for 35 years before the 2003 U.S. invasion.
Askari warned that Shiites in the south had made threats to cut oil to Baghdad and freeze their relationship with the capital.
"The question is not who will be the prime minister, but what will be the fate of the country," Askari said. "Will we face chaos? Will we be an unstable country? This is the question."
Askari said Maliki would act if the situation started to deteriorate.
If the election is seen as illegitimate, Askari said, the Shiite south could declare itself a semiautonomous region and hoard Iraq's oil wealth as the country fragmented. With Kurdistan in the north already enjoying near independence, Baghdad would be a capital only in name, he feared. He argued that Maliki could be forced to act to restore legitimacy to the vote and guarantee a credible transition.