An Iraqi electoral appeals panel on Monday announced the disqualification of 52 candidates in last month's elections, throwing another stumbling block into the country's effort to form a government.
The candidates, who are alleged to have ties to Saddam Hussein's former Baath Party, were disqualified in an appeal filed by the Accountability and Justice Commission. The AJC is a government body charged with purging members of the former regime from political life.
One of the 52 is a winning candidate from former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's al-Iraqiya bloc, which garnered the most seats in the March 7 elections, according to an electoral official and a spokesman for the AJC.
An additional 21 who did not win seats are also members of al-Iraqiya, AJC spokesman Ali al-Lami said.
Votes from the disqualified candidates will have to be thrown out, election officials said.
It is not yet clear whether the disqualifications will affect the number of al-Iraqiya seats, the officials said.
The candidates have one month to appeal the decision by the Electoral Judicial Panel, adding another delay in the formation of a government.
Last week, an appeals court ordered a manual recount of Baghdad votes in response to an appeal from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition, which fell two seats behind Allawi's Iraqiya slate.
There are concerns that the delays could lead to a political vacuum and an increase in violence reminiscent of the escalation in sectarian violence in early 2006 while the government was being formed.
A wave of bombings late last week killed more than 60 people across the capital.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill expressed concern Monday about the latest potential delay.
"We are concerned that the process is lagging and that we have not gotten onto government formation as yet, and we would share the concern of those who believe that it is time that these politicians got down to business and started forming a government," Hill told reporters.
The winning blocs have been engaged in negotiations for the past few weeks to try to create a majority bloc of 163 seats needed in parliament to form a government.
Meanwhile, some have questioned the intentions of AJC leaders Ahmed al-Chalabi and al-Lami - both Shiite politicians who ran in the elections. The commission has become somewhat controversial in recent months as some Iraqis and foreign observers say it is being used to eliminate political opponents, including prominent Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlaq, who was among more than 500 candidates the AJC banned from running in the elections ahead of the vote.
The 52 disqualified Monday, including the brother of al-Mutlaq, ran as replacements for those banned candidates.
A seven-member cassation court that rules on appeals of AJC decisions is expected to begin looking into the disqualifications as early as Tuesday.
- From CNN's Jomana Karadsheh