The apparent front-runner in Iraq's ongoing struggle to form a new government has told NPR that he will reject the results of the March 7 election if a recount does not include other areas of the country.
Ayad Allawi leads the Iraqiya coalition that won the most seats in last month's parliamentary elections. That would allow him to have the first crack at trying to form a coalition government. But last week, an Iraqi court announced that it would grant the request of incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to manually recount the votes in Baghdad. It's not clear that the recount will put Maliki in the top spot.
"We already have rejected this," Allawi told NPR's Quil Lawrence. "If they don't respect others in the political process, then we have to look at the whole political process, whether it's a democratic process or not, and make or take our decisions based on our convictions."
The decision to recount votes has added as much as a month to the wait for Iraq's next government to form. Many observers have warned that spending months without seating a new government could destabilize the country.
On Friday, 72 people were killed in Iraq's bloodiest day of the year so far, when mosques, shops and the office of an influential Shiite cleric were bombed. Homes of police also were bombed. No group has claimed responsibility for the bombings, but Maliki and others have blamed al-Qaida in Iraq, saying the insurgent group was retaliating for the recent deaths of two leaders of the organization, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri.
Baghdadi and Masri, an Egyptian, were killed earlier this month in a raid by Iraqi and U.S. security forces on their safe house near Tikrit, north of Baghdad. The two men had led the al-Qaida franchise in Iraq since 2006, a fact that was confirmed in a statement Sunday by the umbrella group called the Islamic State of Iraq.
In a four-page statement posted on a militant website, the group confirmed the killings of the two men, but vowed to keep up the fight despite claims by U.S. and Iraqi officials that the deaths could be a devastating blow to the terrorist network.
"After a long journey filled with sacrifices and fighting falsehood and its representatives, two knights have dismounted to join the group of martyrs," the statement said.
It concluded: "The war is still ongoing, and the favorable outcome will be for the pious."
Al-Qaida in Iraq has proven resilient in the past, showing a remarkable ability to change tactics and adapt — most notably after its brutal founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed nearly four years ago in a U.S. airstrike. Still, it is widely believed the group was far stronger then and would likely have a harder time now replenishing its leadership and sticking to a timetable of attacks.