BAGHDAD – At least four Sunni Muslim candidates who appear to have won parliamentary seats in Iraq on the winning ticket of secular leader Ayad Allawi have become targets of investigation by security forces reporting to the narrowly defeated Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, according to interviews Saturday with relatives, Iraqi security forces and the U.S. military.
All four candidates ran in Diyala province, a restive, mainly Sunni area north of Baghdad. One candidate who won more than 28,000 votes is being held incommunicado in a Baghdad jail, two other winners are on the run and the whereabouts of the fourth, a woman, are unknown.
Al-Maliki alluded to the cases in his televised refusal Friday to accept a loss in the March 7 parliamentary elections, saying of unnamed rival candidates: “What would happen if some of them are in prison now on terror accusations and they participated in the elections and might win?”
Al-Maliki’s critics say the Shiite prime minister is using state security forces and the courts to remove political rivals in a last-ditch effort to disqualify candidates from Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition, which holds only a two-seat lead ahead of al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc.
The government’s action, coupled with appeals by al-Maliki’s bloc for the votes to be thrown out in these cases, appeared to be a long-shot maneuver to strip Allawi of his margin of victory.