A review panel yesterday invalidated votes cast for 52 candidates in Iraq’s election, throwing into doubt the slim lead of a Sunni-backed alliance and setting the stage for a possible spike in sectarian violence.


Electoral officials and politicians said yesterday’s decision may not alter the final outcome of the election, but a more significant ruling was expected today, when the panel considers the fate of six to nine winning candidates.


The developments could raise tensions at a vulnerable time, with Iraq adrift in a political vacuum almost two months after the inconclusive March 7 vote, and U.S. troops preparing to end combat operations in August ahead of a full withdrawal by 2011.


Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, whose cross-sectarian Iraqiya alliance won a slim lead with strong support from the Sunni minority, said his coalition would fight the ruling while some of his allies said they might seek a new election.

“We have instructed lawyers to appeal against the panel’s decision,” Allawi said in Ankara. “We are very concerned about certain groups controlling the political process in Iraq.”