BAGHDAD -- As new results from this month's election continued to show a neck-and-neck race, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday issued a strongly worded warning that without a nationwide recount, the country could descend into violence. The electoral commission quickly rejected the request, saying a recount would be neither necessary nor feasible.
Maliki's statement, in which he pointedly invoked his role as "Commander in Chief of the armed forces," alarmed some U.S. and Iraqi officials who worry Maliki is laying the groundwork to stay in office even if he does not win a plurality of the vote. Maliki's party has alleged the vote counting has been marred by fraud.
Maliki, a Shiite who is increasingly isolated politically, is in a tight contest with secular Shiite Ayad Allawi, who draws his support largely from Sunnis. Allawi's strong performance threatens the control that Kurds and religious Shiite politicians hold on government power.
The United States is hoping for a peaceful transfer of authority as it draws down to 50,000 troops this summer from the current level of 96,000.
Maliki and his allies "think they're losing, and they have no intention of giving up their regime," said a U.S. military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject. "These are people who were exiled and who've risen to power almost overnight because we brought them back to power. Now they're going to lose that relative lock on power through these elections. This is not sounding like the peaceful transfer of power is about to occur."