Confusion in Iraq as fraud accusations fly

Claims of electoral fraud in Iraq are more likely to stem from frustrated outgoing politicians.

BAGHDAD - Close to three weeks after parliamentary polls, confusion reigns in Iraq as allegations mount of election fraud even with negotiations to form a government well underway.

Since the May 12 victory of anti-establishment electoral lists, long-time political figures pushed out by Iraqi voters hoping for change have called for a recount -- with some even calling for the poll results to be cancelled.

Iraqi authorities have agreed to review the results, but have yet to take any concrete measures.

Experts say claims of fraud are more likely to stem from frustrated outgoing politicians, rather than any major electoral manipulations in a country determined to turn the page after a brutal three-year fight against the Islamic State group.

In a surprise to many, the parliamentary poll saw populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr's electoral alliance with Iraq's communists beat a list of former anti-IS fighters close to Shiite Iran.

"To cancel these results is not possible, it would lead to a crisis and perhaps armed clashes," political analyst Essam al-Fili said.

Fili said Shiite forces, now in a strong position amid negotiations to form a government, "aren't ready to give up what they've won".

Many of Iraq's longtime political figures -- seemingly irremovable since the fall 15 years ago of dictator Saddam Hussein -- were pushed out of their seats by new faces.

It is their voices -- with parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi leading the charge -- that have been the loudest in challenging the poll results.

- '12,000 votes' -

Politicians, who have until Thursday to formalise their complaints, voted Monday in parliament to annul the votes of displaced Iraqis and those living abroad.

They also voted in favour of a manual recount of 10 percent of ballot boxes.

If the results differ by more than 25 percent from those announced by the electoral commission, the move would force a manual recount of nearly 11 million ballots.

But the vote -- which is non-binding -- is purely symbolic.

Intelligence services said tests of electronic voting machines brought varied results -- appearing to give credence to the fraud claims.

And while the government has ordered a review of vote results, media and social networks continue to pick apart the allegations, which mainly concern polling stations abroad -- a fragment of the overall vote.

An outspoken outgoing MP, Mishaan al-Juburi, has charged that while in Damascus he saw "the head of the electoral commission for (expats in) Syria and Jordan selling a political leader 12,000 votes of Iraqi expatriates in Syria and 4,000 votes in another country".

Juburi has also denounced alleged fraud in Amman, where his family lives and where he claims to have conducted an intense campaign that had officially won him a mere 19 votes.

"I have the impression that there is a clear conspiracy against me," he said.

- 'Incongruities' -

But it is in the multi-ethnic oil-rich province of Kirkuk that the challenge to the poll's results is the strongest -- and the most explosive.

Kirkuk's ethnically mixed population -- majority Kurdish but with sizeable Arab and Turkmen minorities -- pushed authorities to impose a curfew.

Vote results in the province reflect its communal balance, with six Kurds, three Arabs and three Turkmen elects.

But the International Crisis Group has said the results have two "striking incongruities".

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan swept the Kurdish vote, but "won in several non-Kurdish areas where the party is not known to have any support", the group said in a report published last week.

The second discrepancy was that "turnout in Kurdish areas was low compared both to past elections and to the participation rate in Turkmen neighbourhoods and camps for the internally displaced", where much of the province's Arab population has lived since IS jihadists swept across the country in 2014.