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Iraqi PM al-Maliki Says Rivals Who Won Election Can't Form Government

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BAGHDAD — Iraq's prime minister said Thursday his Sunni-backed rivals, who narrowly won the March election, were wasting their time trying to form a new government, a remark sure to raise tensions.

Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused the winning Iraqiya list of delaying the political process, even though it was the premier himself who mounted a series of challenges to the results postponing the final tally.

"I say to our brothers in Iraqiya list: You are wasting your time and delaying the political process," al-Maliki was quoted as saying by the independent daily Al-Mada.

Iraqiya won 91 of 325 seats in parliament over 89 for al-Maliki's bloc. Because neither has a majority, they need coalition partners to form a government. Al-Maliki has already formed an alliance with another Shiite bloc that came in third in the election, and together they are just four seats short of a majority.

Iraq's constitution says the bloc with the most seats should get the first crack at forming a government, which Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi believes gives him the mandate.

Al-Maliki claims that his post-election alliance gives him the largest bloc and the right to form the government.

Sunni anger over being largely excluded from government after the U.S.-led invasion was seen as a key reason behind the insurgency and subsequent sectarian violence that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war. Now many fear that if Allawi's Sunni-backed bloc is largely excluded from government the violence could return.

While violence has fallen dramatically in Iraq since the height of the insurgency, a spate of attacks, including one last week that killed 119 people, has heightened fears that insurgents are regrouping.

In the northern city of Mosul, a suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt at a police checkpoint on Thursday, killing one policeman and wounding 12 people, police and morgue officials said on condition anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.