After the new Iraqi parliament is seated they will elect a president with a two-thirds vote who will then tell the leader of the coalition with the most seats to form a new government. Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi finished first in the March 7 election with 91 seats. He needs to garner 72 more seats to reach a majority of 163 to become the leader of Iraq again, and is in talks with all the major parties to accomplish this. One of them is the Kurdish Alliance, led by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), who finished with 43 seats. While not a necessity to form a new government, the way the lists are currently divided, they will be an important player. The problem for Allawi is that the Kurdish Alliance has come out against members of his list for being anti-Kurdish.
One major difference between the Kurdish Alliance and Allawi stems from the Kurds’ demands to join a coalition. The Kurds are expecting assurances on Kurdish federalism and sharing of oil revenues, support for Article 140 that lays out rough steps to annex disputed territories such as Kirkuk, and support for President Jalal Talabani to return for a second term as prerequisites for their participation in any new government. Right after the voting ended, the National Movement ran into its first problem when member Vice President Tariq Hashemi said that an Arab should be president in an interview with Al Jazeera. Allawi and Hashemi immediately went to Irbil to meet with Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani to smooth over the comments. Recently, Allawi also said that he respected the nomination of Talabani. The presidency is an important symbolic position for the Kurds, to show that they have power in Baghdad. Allawi might have found a solution to this early difference, but he has larger ones to deal with.
While Allawi is a secular Shiite, most of his list is made up of Sunnis. Two prominent members are parliamentarian Osama Nujafi and his brother Atheel Nujafi who is the governor of Ninewa and the leader of the al-Hadbaa party. They are probably the main reason why the National Movement won 20 out of 31 general seats in the province. In the 2009 elections Al-Hadbaa ran on opposition to Kurdish aspirations to annex disputed regions of the governorate, and to remove them from leadership positions within Ninewa, which they had controlled since 2005. After their victory, the Kurds boycotted the provincial council, set up their own rival administration, and denounced al-Hadbaa as being Baathists.
The Nujafis inclusion in the National Movement has become a major source of concern for the Kurds. The Kurdish Alliance has said that there are Baathists within Allawi’s list as a result. More and more, Kurdish officials have also said that they would have a problem working with Allawi because of the Nujafis. The leader of the Kurdish Alliance said that they have nothing against Allawi personally, but that members of his list are a threat to the Kurds. Another Kurd said that there were parts of the National Movement that opposed the constitution, meaning Article 140, Kurdish federalism, and denied Saddam’s massacre of Kurds at Halabja. Osama Nujafi has not helped the situation when after the election he said that he would oppose giving the Kurds any concessions over Kirkuk or any other disputed territory. Because al-Hadbaa are such an important part of the National Movement, responsible for up to one fifth of the list’s seats, Allawi would find it almost impossible to compromise with both them and the Kurdish Alliance. The Kurds and the Nujafis have diametrically opposed ideas of the disputed areas, the administration of Ninewa, and al-Hadbaa are considered Baathists in disguise by the Kurdish Alliance. Allawi supporting Talabani for president is a relatively painless move, but making any kind of promises to the Kurds could tear his list apart.
While anything is possible in Iraqi politics, for now it seems as though there is no common ground to be found between Allawi and the Kurdish Alliance. Allawi was the overwhelming candidate of the Sunnis this election, and the Nujafis played an important role in that victory. That support may now cost him a deal with the Kurds. Already, the Kurds have said that they are closer to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law and the Supreme Council-Sadrist led National Alliance. 163 seats in parliament can be achieved without the Kurdish Alliance, but it would be much more difficult. Allawi would have to win over some of the smaller winners in the 2010 election such as the Unity of Iraq and Accordance Front, and more importantly, one or two of the Shiite parties like the Sadrists, Supreme Council, or even Maliki’s State of Law. This is just another sign that forming a new government will be a long and arduous process likely to take months just as it did in 2005.
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