Reporting from Baghdad — Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, whose Iraqiya alliance edged out Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's party in national elections last month, Thursday warned of potential chaos and violence if he is denied the right to form the country's next government.
Allawi said Maliki and his supporters' refusal to accept final election results, in which Allawi's bloc won 91 seats in parliament versus 89 for Maliki's State of Law alliance, could provoke bloodshed among the Iraqi people.
"This will bring the country into really severe chaos," Allawi told the Los Angeles Times at his Baghdad office. It will be "a revolution and a coup against the constitution. This will be devastating. It will throw the country wide open to violence."
Maliki has alleged election fraud and demanded a recount in parts of Baghdad and northern Iraq, despite declarations from the United States and United Nations that the elections were fair. His alliance has also supported legal efforts to strip Allawi's slate of some of its seats in the 325-seat parliament.
Iraq's federal court, in response to a legal brief from Maliki, issued an opinion that although Allawi's alliance has a plurality, his coalition does not have an automatic right to form the next government, a stance rejected by Allawi.
"It is our right, based on our constitution and democracy, that we should spearhead the formation of the government," he said. "Now I cannot see a reason why we should be denied this."
The tussle for power as tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers prepare to head home has stoked sectarian tensions in Iraq, with the country's onetime Sunni Arab elite insisting that Allawi is the winner. Maliki's camp has labeled Allawi, a secular Shiite Muslim who served as prime minister in 2004 and '05, the choice of supporters of the late dictator Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.
A rash of bombings has raised concern that Iraq faces more death and destruction over the formation of the next government as U.S. forces in the country are reduced to about 50,000 noncombat troops by the end of August. At their peak, about 168,000 U.S. troops were deployed in Iraq.
Much of Allawi's support comes from areas north and west of Baghdad, where the country's Sunni minority, angry about its marginalization, picked up arms after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The belief that they were cheated of victory in the election could prove a boon to the country's remaining Sunni fighters.
On Tuesday, Maliki and U.S. Embassy officials urged all sides to avoid provocative statements regarding security in Iraq.
But Allawi, who, like Maliki, has earned a reputation as a dogged political fighter, carried on with his fiery statements Thursday during his interview with The Times.
Allawi declared that if a new government was not in place by the end of August, it was almost certain that attacks conducted by the militant group Al Qaeda in Iraq would succeed in sparking sectarian war.
"Once the Americans withdraw, God forbid if there is no government by then, this would be a tipping point," Allawi said. "This will expedite the attacks. . . . This will expedite the breakdown of law and order."
Allawi said that it would take at least two months to form a government and that it was possible that negotiations could drag into the fall. He acknowledged armed groups were seizing on the vacuum, but said the Americans should stick to their timeline, and that doing so should push the Iraqi parties to come together.
"Frankly speaking, the deterioration of the security in Iraq and the fact America will draw down its forces should create the right pressure on Iraq to expedite the formation of the government," he said. "The presence of the American army is not the magic solution."
He accused Maliki and his party of having possible ambitions to form an authoritarian regime.
"Of course we are worried," Allawi said. "His party has been the favorite in getting jobs and so on, in security. . . . This raises a little bit of concern and worries us when there is favoritism to a group or party. It can spell danger."
Allawi also derided Maliki as belonging to a party that was "a sectarian force." Allawi, who was accused of authoritarian impulses when he was prime minister, presented his record in a favorable light compared with that of Maliki.
"Where is the reconciliation? Where are the nonsectarian appointments in the institutions?" he said. "It is your strength as prime minister to get the country out of its sectarian impasse."
Ali Allaq, a senior member of Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party, derided Allawi's remarks as irresponsible.
"Their goals are to foil . . . their opponents and to provoke fears and worries among the people," Allaq said. "These are the dangerous messages of Iyad Allawi. . . . I am not accusing him of violence, but his statements send a negative message to the Iraqi people and are used by the terrorist groups to bring more violence."