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Iraq election recount battle over, now comes the hard part

At an unusual Baghdad gathering of key players, tensions eased over the Iraq election results. But the effort to form a coalition government and choose Iraqi's new prime minister and president still in the early stages.

By Jane ArrafCorrespondent / May 19, 2010

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki speaks to the press during a reopening ceremony for the ministry of foreign affairs in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday. At this gathering of key players, tensions eased over Iraq's May 6 election results.

Khalid Mohammed/AP

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Baghdad

The tense challenges to Iraq’s March 7 election results appear over – breaking one political log jam. But the impasse over who will be the prime minister, president, and participate in the ruling government coalition will likely continue for months.

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At an unusual gathering Wednesday of Iraq’s key political players, international diplomats, and government officials, there was a palpable sense of relief that the country’s post-election drama has been dialed down a notch after a vote recount.

“Hopefully it will be a matter of not so many more days before … the [election] results will be ratified by the supreme court,” says Ad Melkert, the UN special envoy to Iraq. “That will open the possibility in about two weeks time for the new parliament to be convened.”

Parliament convening will set in motion a series of steps that will eventually lead to a president and prime minister being decided – a process still expected to take several months.

“We respectfully wish and urge the leaders of Iraq to surprise us all in forming a new government in a short space of time,” said Greek Ambassador Panayotis Macris, the dean of the foreign diplomatic corps, addressing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other dignitaries gathered for the ceremony re-opening the foreign ministry building, which was bombed last August.

Election officials last week announced that a manual recount of more than two million votes cast in Baghdad found no evidence of significant fraud. Despite assertions by the United Nations that the March 7 elections had been credible, Prime Minister Maliki had demanded the recount after saying he’d been robbed of hundreds of thousands of votes.

The completion of the recount and investigation of the remaining electoral challenges paves for the way for the court to certify the election results – 2-1/2 months after Iraqis went to the polls.

Nine candidates reinstated

In a second significant development, an appeals panel ruled that nine candidates who had won seats but were banned from taking office because of alleged Baathist ties had won their appeals and could be seated in the new parliament. Some political leaders had warned that allowing the bans to stand would drive the country back into civil war.

“The Iraqis have made very clear that they will do this themselves in their own way so we’ll have to see what emerges,” says US Ambassador Chris Hill. “Our concern is that they do it sooner rather than later and that they understand there is much to be done to rebuild this country – not just this foreign ministry but the rest of the country.”

Forty-two ministry employees were killed and hundreds wounded when a massive suicide truck bomb detonated outside the foreign ministry last August. It was followed by a wave of other bombings claimed by Al Qaeda in Iraq against government targets. The foreign ministry, where engineers have worked virtually around the clock for months, was the first to be rebuilt and officially re-opened Wednesday by Maliki.

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