Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, has asked the country's electoral commission to respond to demands for a vote recount.
In a statement issued on Sunday, he said it was necessary to respond to the allegations of irregularities in order to preserve the country's political stability.
The latest results from the parliamentary vote show al-Maliki's State of Law coalition trailing slightly behind the Iraqiya bloc of his rival Iyad Allawi, the former prime minister, with just over 92 per cent of the votes counted.
"March 7 was a big step for democracy in Iraq," a statement from al-Maliki's office said.
"But many political entities are now demanding a recount by hand. This is to protect democracy and to preserve the legitimacy of the electoral process.
"As I still hold executive power, and as the head of the political process in this country, and as the leader of the armed forces, I ask the Independent High Electoral Commission [IHEC] to respond immediately to the demands of these political entities, to preserve political stability and to avoid a deterioration of security and a return of violence which was quelled after much effort and loss of blood."
Jalal Talabani, Iraq's president, endorsed al-Maliki's calls for a recount in a statement on his website on Sunday to "preclude any doubt and misunderstanding" in the results.
"As the president of the state, authorised to preserve the constitution and to ensure justice and absolute transparency, I demand the Independent High Electoral Commission recount the ballots manually starting from Sunday, March 21," Talabani said.
No formal request
Even as the contents of al-Maliki's letter were being disclosed, hundreds of people demonstrated in the city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, in support of his demands.
Iraq's electoral commission responded to the statements by rejecting calls for a nationwide manual recount of votes and said they had not received any formal requests for a manual recount.
Faraj al-Haidari, the IHEC chief, told the AFP news agency: "We have provided all political entities with CDs with the results of counting at the political centres, after thorough checks on our part," Haidari said, adding that a manual recount would take "too long".
"If they have doubts and think that there are errors, they can ask us to hold recounts at particular centres, but not across all of Iraq."
Anita McNaught, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Baghdad, said: "[Al-Maliki] is not merely asking for a recount, he is asking for a hand recount of about 12 to 13 million votes in this election. It's quite a demand.
"The other point is that he claims to be acting on behalf of all entities who have cast dispersions on the voting process. But that is something that has been vehemently denied by the Allawi camp."
Iraqiya, in fact, has accused al-Maliki of trying to intimidate the IHEC by demanding the recount.
"This is a clear threat against the commission that aims to put pressure on it, in order to carry out fraud in favour of [al-Maliki's] State of Law Alliance," Intisar Allawi, a senior candidate of Iraqiya, said on Sunday.
Intisar said al-Maliki's statement on Sunday was a "contradiction" prompted by the news that Iraqiya had taken the lead in the nationwide vote tally.
"While he says that the election is accurate, fair and transparent, when Iraqiya takes the lead, he accuses the commission," she said.
Al-Maliki's statement differs markedly from his comments just a week ago, when he said on television that election complaints were "very small" in nature and "cannot affect the results".
Intisar noted that a manual recount "would mean a delay of the results for several months. This would lead to a political vacuum that would affect the security situation".
The latest figures by IHEC, based on 92.1 per cent of ballots counted, show Allawi's Iraqiya (24.21 per cent) leading al-Maliki's State of Law (24.14 per cent) by 7,928 votes.
In third place, with just under two million votes, is the Iraqi National Alliance (18 per cent).
Iraq's proportional representation system makes it unlikely for any single group to clinch the 163 seats required to form a government on its own.
Results from the election, the second since Saddam Hussein was ousted in the US-led invasion of 2003, come less than six months before the US is set to withdraw all of its combat troops from Iraq.