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possible ... but complicated

Abbas Sarhan
Given the final results of Iraq’s parliamentary elections, formation of the next government does not appear an easy task. The winning coalition bloc has not been able to get enough seats on its own to form a cabinet.
31.03.2010  |  Karbala

In light of the need for a parliamentary coalition comprised of a minimum 163 members, and against the backdrop of chronic disagreements between the political parties, the formation of the next Iraqi government is at best a complicated mission.

The Shia alliance that joined to form the incumbent government disintegrated in 2008 into two competing coalitions. A legacy of hostile statements and counter-statements and accusations pollutes the relationship between these two opposing groups now. They have maintained different views and positions that have pushed them further apart. Maliki refused to go to the elections on a single list with Al-Hakim. The great pressures the he faced from religious authorities at Najaf and Iran were in vain.

Maliki’s relationship with the Kurds is not much different from his relationship with the Al-Hakim. The Kurds criticise Maliki for his unsympathetic position on Kirkuk, his negative attitude about deployment of Peshmarga in disputed territories and his refusal to approve oil export contracts concluded between the Kurdistan Regional Government and foreign companies two years ago. Maliki’s government threatened to blacklist any companies attempting to sign contracts with the Kurds.

Allawi’s chances of forming a coalition with the Kurds do not look much better. Statements made by politicians linked to Iraqiya provoked Kurdish anger for what many Kurds see as their chauvinistic tone. Many Kurdish politicians were cautious about dealing with Iraqiya, considering the list antagonistic against the Kurdish people. Besides, Allawi’s alliance with nationalist Arabs, like Saleh Al-Mutlaq or Osama Al-Nujaifi, does not satisfy the Kurds, no matter how hard Allawi tries to tone down their fears with visits to Erbil and the like.

IHEC’s final results reveal Allawi’s Iraqiya list has come first, winning 91 seats, followed by the State of Law coalition, led by Maliki, 89 seats, Iraqi National Coalition, 70 seats, and the Kurdistan Alliance, 43 seats.

Although many analysts say it is difficult to form a coalition between Maliki, the National Coalition and the Kurds, some believe the door is still open for reviving the old coalition.

“Given that the Iraqiya alliance’s victory was welcomed by the Arab countries, this signals a defeat for Iran in the Iraqi political arena, which is likely to push Iran to pressurise the leading parties to form an alliance,” said Dr. Ahmad Bahidh Taqi, Director of Al-Furat Center for Development and Strategic Study. He also refused to rule out an intervention by the Najaf religious authority.

It is obvious that certain elements, closely linked to the State of Law coalition, are supportive of such an option. Deputy Chief of Karbala Governorate Council, Mr. Nasif Jasim Al-Khatabi, a member of the Dawa party, said:

“The option of an alliance comprising the State of Law, the Kurds and the National Coalition, remains the most optimal deal. That does not mean excluding others.”

By other winners, Al-Khatabi means the Accord Front and the minorities that could be a key partner for forming the next government.”

On the other hand, an alliance between Allawi and Maliki does not seem to be a feasible option. “The disagreements between the two sides,” according to Al-Khatabi are “too deep to be reconciled in the short-run.”

Prior to the elections, and during his visit to Beirut, Allawi accused Maliki of sectarianism, and ruled out an unconditional alliance with him. For his part, Maliki and his allies, describe Iraqiya as Baathists. They believe that alliance represents a leading Saudi-Syrian plan aiming at the removal of Maliki from the post of Prime Minister. They also claim election results have been forged to serve Allwai’s interests.

The two sides maintain a different vision of how best to eliminate Baathists and on Iraq’s relations with its neighbours. On top of that, the egos of their figureheads clash strongly over who would take the post of Prime Minister.

In light of this complicated map of relationships among the election winners, it is only possible to speculate about the forthcoming coalitions’s form.

The Iraqi National Coalition recently suggested a national unity government as a possible solution, involving all parties, including Iraqiya.

“Our suggestion is to involve all alliances into the next government,” says Hamid Rasheed Ma’ala form the National Coalition. “Iraq cannot be governed by a single side, sect, or ethnic group, as all must participate in ruling Iraq,” he continues, reiterating the words expressed by the National Coalition’s leader, Ammar Al-Hakim.

Analysts view the National Coalition’s position as an attempt to boost its position in the eventual cabinet by playing on the existing contradictions. They leave the door open for an alliance with all parties, and play the role of a kingmaker. Whatever their pronouncements, however, the National Coalition has painful memories of Iyad Allawi.

Sadrists have not forgotten Allawi targeting them militarily when he was prime minister in 2004. Ahmad Al-Chalabi, known as the architect of Shia coalitions, and the man behind uprooting hundreds of parliamentary elections candidates, including leading figures in the Allawi list, will not easily accept to be an ally or partner in an Iraqiya-led government.

“With the National Coalition desirous of the post of Prime Minister, despite coming third in the election, they might find an alliance with Allawi the best option,” says Salim Farhan, a political science professor at Karbala University. “There are no deals without conditions or gains.”

Although the “round table” option called for by the National Coalition might not be convincing to the other leading blocs, National Coalition member, Hamid Rasheed Ma’ala emphasises that “this option is the most favorable one at this time, so long as a single bloc is incapable of forming a government on its own.”