BAGHDAD – An Iraqi court threw the nation’s disputed election into deeper disarray Monday by disqualifying 52 candidates, including one winner, in a ruling that cast doubt on the slim lead of a Sunni-backed alliance over the prime minister’s political coalition.

The decision by the three-judge election court intensified political turmoil and dealt a new setback to efforts to form a new government in Iraq nearly two months after the vote for a new 325-member parliament, which must select the next prime minister.

U.S. officials had hoped the elections would boost efforts to reconcile Iraq’s ethnic and religious groups as the Pentagon prepares to withdraw U.S. combat forces by September. But the maneuvering after the inconclusive vote has created a political vacuum and fears of new violence.

It also threatened to anger anew Sunni voters, who had thrown their support behind secular candidate Ayad Allawi’s bloc to give it a two-seat lead.

The winning candidate who would lose his seat was from Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition. Sunnis largely have spurned Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and their anger against the Shiite-led government in 2006 and 2007 was one of the key motivators for their bloody insurgency that only recently abated.

The court also is considering the fate of at least seven other winning Iraqiya candidates who are accused of having ties to Saddam Hussein’s ousted Baath Party.

Iraqiya, which captured 91 parliamentary seats compared with 89 for al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance, promised to fight the ruling and call for a new election if it is upheld.

“We will not accept such an unjust decision, and we will not stand still to such illegal and illegitimate measures,” said Allawi spokesman Abdul-Rahman al-Bayder.