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Iraqi panel to contest results of elections as chaos grips process

An Iraqi commission that removes loyalists to the outlawed Baath Party from government jobs announced Monday that it would contest results from the March 7 parliamentary elections, a move sure to create further chaos in the aftermath of balloting that hardened Iraq's sectarian divide.

On the eve of the election, the Accountability and Justice Commission, run by two Shiite men who were also candidates in the elections, purged more than 50 candidates it said were loyal to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. But at least six of those people won seats and the commission now wants to have them and votes for them thrown out.

That could have the effect of changing the overall outcome of the election, with the secular Shiite Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc losing its thin lead over incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has already vowed to challenge the results. It could give al-Maliki the edge again, making it easier for him to claim the right to form Iraq's new government.

Allawi, himself a former prime minister, drew much of his support from Sunni Arabs who see him as less sectarian. If those results involving the six candidates -- at least two of them are from his bloc -- are thrown out, those Sunni Arabs could feel cheated, analysts and officials said.

Allawi's Iraqiya bloc rejected the step.

"The decisions of the Accountability and Justice Committee are not legal," said Hamid al-Mutlaq, a winning candidate on the Iraqiya list. "Those six winning candidates have the approval of [the election commission] and this decision is a political one, not a legal one."

"It would be civil war, absolutely no doubt," said Falah Naqib, a member of the Iraqiya political bloc and the former minister of interior. "I think the United States and other allies should find a solution for this problem; otherwise, we're seriously going for a civil war, and this time it's a big mess."

Ali al-Lami, executive director of the commission and a losing Shiite candidate, blamed Iraq's electoral commission for allowing the men to run in the first place.

Also Monday, in a sign of the violence Iraqis fear will overtake the nation as political battles for seats of power ensue, a double bombing ripped through the holy southern city of Karbala.

At least 50 people were wounded, officials said. It was unclear whether anyone was killed.

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