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Iraq election recount over, no fraud found

By Khalid al-Ansary

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A completed recount of 2.5 million ballots cast in Iraq's March 7 parliamentary election found no signs of fraud, an election official said on Friday, making it likely the final tally will not change.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's predominantly Shi'ite electoral coalition demanded the recount of votes cast in Baghdad, alleging fraud. Maliki's grouping came second in the election, two seats behind a cross-sectarian bloc led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi'ite.

A reversal in the results could have angered Allawi's Sunni backers, who see him as something of a champion of their cause after they lost influence following the fall in 2003 of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein. Allawi is also viewed as a bulwark against Shi'ite Iran.

"There is no proof ... that there was fraud or manipulation or big mistakes," Qassim al-Aboudi, a spokesman for the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), said at a news conference.

The results of the recount, which began on May 3, will be made public on Monday, Aboudi said.

Baghdad, Iraq's capital and most populous city, was the biggest prize in the election with more than one-fifth of the seats in parliament.

An IHEC official who asked not to be named said he did not think the recount would change the final result.

Allawi's Iraqiya coalition rode strong support from minority Sunnis to gain 91 parliamentary seats compared with 89 for Maliki's State of Law bloc.

State of Law has announced a tie-up with the Iran-friendly Iraqi National Alliance, the other main Shi'ite-led political grouping, which finished third with 70 seats. Together they would form the largest bloc in the next 325-seat parliament.

The time it is taking to certify the election results and start to form a government could make the country vulnerable to a slide back into the sectarian violence unleashed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Dozens have died in attacks carried out since the ballot by suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents seeking to exploit the political vacuum and tensions between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

At least 125 people were killed and more than 600 were wounded on Monday in a series of car bombings and attacks by gunmen stretching from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south.

In a statement issued just before the IHEC announcement, Maliki's office said the prime minister's demand for a recount was meant to enforce the credibility of the election and reinforce the confidence of voters.

Aboudi said 400 complaints had been lodged by agents of the political factions during the recount and 230 of them had been dismissed so far. The others would be dealt with in the coming days, he said.

(Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim, writing by Jim Loney; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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