In this May 12, 2018 photo, a handout picture released by Iraq's Prime Minister's Media Office shows PM Haider al-Abadi posing with a blank ballot at a poll station in the capital Baghdad's Karrada district during the first parliamentary election since Iraq’s declaration of victory over the Islamic State group. (IRAQI PRIME MINISTER'S PRESS OFFICE / AFP)
BAGHDAD — A commission looking into alleged irregularities in Iraq's national elections has found "unprecedented" violations, the prime minister said Tuesday, a development that could prolong the process of forming a new government following last month's voting.
Denying widespread irregularities, Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission rejected past calls for a manual recount or the cancellation of ballots
During his weekly press conference, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the commission found "widespread manipulation" and faulted election authorities for "not taking the needed measures or taking wrong ones."
He said the Cabinet approved the recommendations of the commission, which is made up of the heads of five security and oversight agencies as well as the head of an anti-corruption agency.
The recommendations include a manual recount of at least 5 percent of ballots and annulling all votes from overseas and displaced voters.
The elections, the fourth held since the 2003 US-led invasion, saw low turnout reflecting widespread anger at the country's dysfunctional political class.
Supporters of the populist Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose forces once battled US troops, emerged with the most seats, but would have to form a coalition government with other blocs in a process that could drag on for months. Al-Abadi's bloc came in third, after a coalition of mostly Shi'ite paramilitary forces.
In this March 27, 2016 file photo, Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr gives a speech to his followers before entering the highly fortified Green Zone, in Baghdad, Iraq. (KARIM KADIM / AP)
The Independent High Electoral Commission, which administered the vote, has denied widespread irregularities and rejected past calls for a manual recount or the cancellation of ballots. It's unclear whether the government can force it to undertake those measures, and it's also unclear whether doing so would change the outcome of the election. The winners of the election have already begun talks on forming a new government.
Al-Abadi has meanwhile called for criminal investigations, and has banned election officials from traveling abroad without his approval.