The counting of ballots from Iraq’s March 2010 parliamentary election is almost over, but for quite some time now, the real action has been going on largely behind the scenes as the major lists in the country have been negotiating to form a new ruling coalition. Early signs point to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law trying to re-create the current alliance behind him. Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is facing an uphill battle to counter these moves. Interestingly enough, neither man may become the new prime minister.
Before Iraqis even went to the polls on March 7, the State of Law list said that it wanted the same parties currently behind Maliki to return to power. In 2005, Maliki was chosen to be the new head of state by the United Iraqi Alliance made up of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), Maliki’s Dawa Party, and the Sadrists, along with the Kurdish Alliance consisting of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Two days before the 2010 election, a member of State of Law said they hoped to join with the Iraqi National Alliance of the Supreme Council and Sadrists, and the Kurdish Alliance. Afterward a State of Law delegation met with SIIC chief Ammar al-Hakim, while former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who ran as part of the National Alliance said that he wanted to join with Maliki. Earlier, the Supreme Council said that it wanted to work with the Kurds as well after the vote, as the two have had a long-standing relationship dating back to their time as opposition groups to Saddam Hussein’s rule. The main motivation of Maliki and Hakim for this alliance is to keep Allawi and his mostly Sunni Iraqi National Movement out of power. This is supported by Iran who wants a Shiite led government in Baghdad. Iran is trying to encourage the old alliance to stick together by having their ambassador to Iraq meet with President Jalal Talabani of the Kurdish Alliance on March 23, while Maliki sent a delegation to Tehran a little while ago.
For the Kurds’ part, they are asking for some major concessions on outstanding issues for them to join any new government. First, they have nominated President Talabani to a second term, and want parties to line up behind him. The presidency is an important symbolic position for the Kurds to show that they still have status in Baghdad. They are also asking for guarantees on Article 140 of the constitution that sets out broad steps necessary for the annexation of Kirkuk and other disputed territories in northern Iraq. Sharing of oil revenues from contracts the Kurdistan Regional Government has signed with foreign companies, but which have been blocked by Baghdad, is also of importance. Hakim and Maliki have already come out in support of Talabani, and the head of the Kurdish Alliance said on March 22 that they share a similar vision for Iraq with State of Law and the National Alliance. Maliki and Hakim have also sent parties to meet with the Kurdish Alliance, and Hakim said that the Kurds will always been a major partner. As of now, it is looking like the Kurds will join with their former Shiite partners to make sure they have power and say within the central government.
There have also been reports that State of Law has opened up talks with other parties. Some Maliki supporters are hoping that Allawi’s list will break apart, and that State of Law can draw the defectors to their side. On February 13 for example, a member of the National Movement told Radio Sawa that the list was unorganized, and that parties could leave in the future. Maliki has also had discussions with the Accordance Front and the Change List. These smaller parties might be necessary for Maliki to reach the 163 seats in parliament necessary to nominate a new prime minister.
The major barrier to Maliki’s plans is the Sadrists. Moqtada al-Sadr’s followers did surprisingly well in the March election. They have gotten the majority of seats within the National Alliance, and they are now trying to play the role of kingmaker. Moqtada al-Sadr has said that he will not accept Maliki as prime minister again, and has nominated his cousin, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who got the second most votes behind Maliki in the State of Law, as an alternative. The Sadrists are further complicating matters because they are long-time rivals of the Supreme Council, and do not get along with the Kurds. It will take some major concessions for Maliki to win Sadr over, and there’s no telling whether this is possible right now.
On the other hand you have Allawi who may face an even more difficult time than Maliki to find a way to rule. One major issue is the fact that many Sunni Arab members of his list, like the Ninewa based al-Hadbaa party, are opposed to making any compromises with the Kurdish Alliance. Parliamentarian Osama Nujafi for instance, whose brother heads al-Hadbaa, said that they would be against any deal with the Kurds that involved the disputed territories like Kirkuk. In a related matter, Allawi is doing surprisingly well in Tamim province, the home to Kirkuk, and the Kurdish Alliance are claiming this was achieved by fraud. Even if the Kurds end up winning there, they may be emboldened by their close finish to ensure they don’t lose Kirkuk to Allawi’s Arab and Turkmen supporters in the province. Another problem for Allawi is that his running mate, current Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, claimed that the next president of Iraq should be an Arab. Some say that Hashemi wants that spot for himself. This has obviously angered the Kurdish Alliance who want the presidency to remain in their hands. Despite these difficulties, Allawi and Hashemi both traveled to meet Kurdish President Massoud Barzani on March 13.
The National Movement still has options however. First, they have tried to win over the Sadrists to their side. Allawi’s Iraqi National List and the Sadrists in parliament have worked together on several national issues over the last several years, and Sadr’s opposition to Maliki for prime minister may also open the door to talks with Allawi’s list. There is also the possibility that the National Movement and State of Law will join together if all else fails. Allawi has already said that he might take this route.
An early sign of how the competing lists have aligned themselves may be deciphered when a new president is elected. After the election results are made public, a new parliament will be seated, who then have to elect a speaker, two deputies, and a new president with a two-thirds vote. Since the Kurdish Alliance is set on President Talabani maintaining his office, who supports him, may show which parties have joined with them. Afterward, the new president will ask the leader of the list with the most seats to try to put together a ruling coalition. If that fails, the runner up will have his chance.
In the end, much of the negotiations over a new government will be based upon the struggle for power rather than ideology. Maliki infuriated the Kurds with his moves in disputed territories in 2008, and his refusal to accept their oil deals, but now they are acting like that is all behind them. The Sadrists may be opposed to Maliki’s re-election because he launched a crackdown upon them in 2008 that largely destroyed the Mahdi Army, but Allawi led an offensive against them as well in 2004 when he was Iraq’s leader. Iraqi politics is like a soap opera where unexpected twists, turns, and relationships often occur. That means neither Maliki nor Allawi may become prime minister if the parties become deadlocked, and a dark horse may emerge to become the new head of state, just as Maliki was named in 2005.
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