Iraq’s prime minister rebuked the United Nations for not backing his demand that the ballots from the country’s March 7 parliamentary elections be recounted.

The comments are the latest in what has become a campaign by Nouri al—Maliki to challenge election results showing him a close second to his chief rival, the Sunni—backed Ayad Allawi.

The campaign may herald a protracted political struggle and extended haggling that could undermine the credibility of Iraq’s nascent democracy and unleash a new bout of sectarian violence at a time when the U.S. is preparing to pull all its troops out of the country.

In remarks to the private Al—Sumariya TV late Sunday, Mr. al—Maliki criticized the U.N. mission in Iraq, which said the voting was transparent and fair, with no widespread fraud.

The incumbent premier also indicated his side still may form the next government as part of a larger alliance in the making.

Mr. Al—Maliki reprimanded U.N. envoy Ad Melkert, for not pushing the electoral commission to approve the recount request for what Mr. al—Maliki’s bloc has contended were irregularities and vote rigging. The commission, an independent body appointed by parliament, rejected the demand as unnecessary.

“I told him, ‘If I were in your place and with so many problems having taken place, I would advise that all methods be used to assure the people that their votes are safe,”’ said Mr. al—Maliki. “The UN should have further encouraged the commission to carry out a recount.”

“The U.N. is not a party in the political process and it shouldn’t be,” Mr. al—Maliki added.

Mr. Al—Maliki’s recount demand is only one track of a multi-pronged effort that could bloc Mr. Allawi from attempting to form a new government and keeping the incumbent in place.

Neither Mr. Allawi’s bloc, with 91 seats in the 325—member assembly, nor Mr. al—Maliki’s with 89, have an outright majority, but Mr. Allawi should be entitled to the first shot at forging a ruling coalition.

However, just before the final results were released, Mr. al—Maliki extracted a Supreme Court decision that allows alliances and super—coalitions - negotiated and formed after the elections - to form the next government if they have the largest number of parliament seats.

There has also been a push to have 50 candidates, mostly from Mr. Allawi’s Iraqiya list, disqualified over alleged ties to Saddam Hussein’s regime. A government vetting committee in charge of the disqualifications is to have a press conference later on Monday that may shed light on the fate of those candidates.

Mr. Al—Maliki has also opened negotiations with both Iraq’s Kurdish Alliance and the Shiite religious bloc, two major groups whose votes he will need for any future government.

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