Iraq's political future was thrown into disarray on Monday after two winning candidates in a general election were disqualified, prompting the United States to admit that progress was "lagging."
A judicial panel disqualified the winning candidates along with 50 others who failed to secure parliamentary seats, further complicating troubled efforts to forge a new ruling coalition in a country that remains beset by violence.
The decision drew anger from the secular coalition of former premier Iyad Allawi, whose strong backing in Sunni areas helped him to narrowly defeat incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in the March 7 ballot.
In Turkey on Monday, Allawi said lawyers will appeal the decision.
"We will take action against this dangerous situation," he told a news conference in Ankara. "We have instructed a group of lawyers to object to this decision at the appeals court. I am sure we will be successful."
The precarious situation was further imperilled when a controversial justice and accountability committee (JAC), responsible for vetting candidates, said it would rule on Tuesday on nine more election winners who could lose their seats.
"The electoral commission has disqualified 52 candidates, two of whom were elected, for their links to the Baath party (of now executed dictator Saddam Hussein)," JAC executive director Ali al-Lami told AFP.
"Tomorrow they will pronounce on nine other winners," he said.
"We are now approaching the two-month period (after the election) and we are concerned that the process is lagging," he said.
"We would share the concern of those who believe that it is time that the politicians got down to business and started forming a government."
The failure to form a new government in Baghdad is the main stumbling block for Washington's plan to pull all its combat troops out of the country in August, ahead of a complete military withdrawal by the end of 2011.
One of the two winning candidates whose participation in the election was cancelled was Ibrahim Mohammed Omar, the brother of Saleh al-Mutlak, a leading Sunni politician who was previously barred from seeking re-election.
Both belong to Allawi's secular Iraqiya bloc, which defeated Maliki.
The JAC, which is chaired by Shiite former deputy premier Ahmed Chalabi, was responsible for identifying candidates with links to the Baath party, Saddam's political movement, which ruled Iraq until the US-led invasion of 2003.
"All those disqualified can appeal, but there is little chance that they will succeed," Lami said, in a downbeat assessment for the 52 candidates who have one month to urge seven judges that they should be reinstated.
Lami did not name the list to which the second successful candidate who was disqualified belonged, but said that 22 belonged to Iraqiya and the remaining 30 were in different parties in the election.
Monday's decision was taken by a three-member judicial panel established by the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), the election organisers.
US ambassador Hill called on all Iraq's politicians to get back to the business of forming a new government.
"What is needed to run this country is 163 seats, not 91 or 89," he said.
"This is not 2005, but Iraqi politicians have to pick up the pace and get through this," Hill said of the six months it took to form Baghdad's last government, while an Iraqiya spokesman hit out at the decision.
"This amounts to the assassination of the democratic process. Nowhere in the world are there elections in which the votes of the electorate are cancelled. This is a crime against the will of the voters," Haider al-Mullah said.
"We have prepared a letter to (UN special envoy in Iraq Ad) Melkert to try and put an end to this comedy. We are being targeted and they are trying to remove our seats" in parliament, he told Iraqi television.
Mullah warned that Iraqiya, which was widely voted for in Sunni Arab provinces, could withdraw from the electoral process completely, a decision that would risk reigniting the sectarian conflict that killed tens of thousands of people in 2006 and 2007.
With neither Allawi nor Maliki -- the main candidates for the premiership -- gaining anywhere near the 163 seats necessary to form a government on their own, the weeks since polling day have been dominated by so far fruitless talks with smaller parties, some with close ties to Iran, to build a coalition.
Source: AFP Global Edition