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In Iraq, the electoral process just doesn't seem to end. Secular candidate Ayad Allawi, Iraq's former prime minister, won the most seats in his country's election. Now he faces another challenge, a move to disqualify members of his winning slate.
As NPR's Quil Lawrence reports from Baghdad, it could put Allawi's victory in jeopardy.
QUIL LAWRENCE: Allawi's electoral slate won by a slim two-seat margin. That should mean he gets the first try at forming a government. But this week a committee of the outgoing parliament announced that four members of Allawi's coalition are linked to Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath Party. One of the names was Muhammad Uthman from Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad.
Mr. MUHAMMAD UTHMAN (Iraqi Politician): (Foreign language spoken)
LAWRENCE: It's a political elimination, Uthman said during a telephone interview. He has gone into hiding, and he changed his appearance, putting on a traditional Arab headdress before traveling to Baghdad this week.
Uthman says that he was never a member of the Baath Party and that the arrest warrant against him is false.
Mr. UTHMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
LAWRENCE: I'm not guilty. I was head of my district in Diyala for four years. Why didn't they come arrest me then, Uthman wants to know.
In Baghdad, he tried to protest the ruling by the de-Baathification committee. The group was originally appointed by the U.S. and run by the controversial Iraqi dissident Ahmed Chalabi. Just before the elections, the committee disqualified over than 500 candidates, nearly derailing the vote.
(Soundbite of voices)
LAWRENCE: At a news conference this week, the committee was back at work, announcing that six of the winning candidates are Baathists. That includes the four members from Allawi's slate, and are enough to erase his slim margin of victory.
Ali al-Lami, now the director of the committee, said the candidates were only allowed to run in the first place because of the United Nations and American pressure.
Mr. ALI AL-LAMI (De-Baathification Committee): (Foreign language spoken)
LAWRENCE: We won't allow any foreign power to interfere, including the American embassy, said Lami. But many Iraqi lawmakers charge that the committee has been used against Chalabi's political rivals and never presents the evidence against the accused.
As for blaming the U.S., ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill responded.
Ambassador CHRIS HILL (U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): We understand the provisions for de-Baathification that are in the law, that are in the constitution. But what needs to happen is there needs to be a transparent, open process. So you know, people can blame the United States as much as they want, but they really need to take this matter to the Iraqi courts.
LAWRENCE: Iraqi courts have sided with the de-Baathification committee in the past, as has sitting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has already vowed to overturn the result by any legal means. The next question is what happens to the votes earned by people like Uthman?
Mr. UTHMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
LAWRENCE: I got 9,700 votes. Do you think those people will be happy if I am eliminated? asked Uthman. He stopped short of predicting violence, but that may not last. The committee wants to simply throw out the votes and not permit Allawi's coalition to substitute new names for the disqualified candidates. An Iraqi court will rule soon, and Iraq may get a whole new list of election results.
Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.
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