BAGHDAD – In an embarrassing rejection of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s efforts to overturn his rival’s lead in March’s inconclusive Iraqi parliamentary election, a laborious manual recount of votes in Baghdad has turned up no evidence of electoral fraud and will not change the final outcome, officials said Friday.

The recount was ordered nearly a month ago after al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated electoral slate alleged that as many as 750,000 ballots had been manipulated, with the worst violations occurring in Baghdad.

Had the allegations been upheld, the recount could have eroded the two-seat lead of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite supported by Sunni Arabs who is claiming the right to form the next government as the head of the largest bloc.

But Iraq’s election commission announced that the completed recount of Baghdad’s 2.5 million votes had found no fraud. Officials familiar with the process said that while there would be some minor adjustments to the final Baghdad tally, due to be announced Monday, none was attributable to fraud and they were not sufficient to alter the overall result, which gave 91 seats in the 325-member parliament to Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc and 89 to al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition.

“There is no evidence that there was manipulation, or forgery or any grievous mistake,” commissioner Qassem Aboudi said at a news conference.

Khalid Asadi, an official with al-Maliki’s coalition, said al-Maliki would await the release of the tally Monday before deciding whether to take any further steps to challenge the results.

The recount has delayed by weeks the final certification of the results of the March 7 election, to the intense frustration of U.S. officials hoping that a new government will be in place by the end of August, when the American military is due to complete its withdrawal of nearly 50,000 combat troops.

U.S. officials say the pullout, which will leave 50,000 troops in Iraq until the end of 2011 as advisers and trainers, is on track to go ahead regardless of whether a new government has been formed. “We are on pace to be at 50,000 by September 1, as the president directed,” said military spokesman Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza.

There are, however, concerns that insurgents will seek to take advantage of the political vacuum to wage attacks aimed at heightening the kind of sectarian tensions that tipped the country into civil war during the last period of government formation in 2006.


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