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The priest, the politician and talk of partnership

Mazin Sahib
No prime ministerial candidate worth his salt in Iraq can afford to forgo a visit to Ayatollah Ali Sistani as elections approach. Thus it was that Nouri al-Maliki, Prime Minister of Iraq, recently visited the…
19.01.2010  |  Baghdad

Al-Maliki left the meeting feeling bullish and ebullient and quickly expressed his desire to forge a new coalition with the National Iraqi Alliance under the leadership of the High Islamic Council. Reactions have been mixed.

According to Al-Maliki’s statement, al-Sistani will support any step which unites the two fronts. Such a unification is in the pipeline, al-Maliki confirmed. Moreover, sources based in Najaf, Ali Sistani’s home town, told Niqash that the cleric wishes to keep equally close relations with Iraq’s two largest Shiite political parties. More than that, he will not offer special support to any party, regardless of religion, race or political stripe.“The Najaf religious authority will not support any specific electoral list in the coming elections,” read a statement released by Sistani’s Najaf office.

Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Iraq’s Vice-President, said al-Maliki had “good intentions” in seeking a fresh coalition but that the road would be a difficult one. Layth Shiber, political advisor to Abdul-Mahdi, said that raising this issue did not mean the coalition would become a reality since “the time permitted for coalitions to unite has elapsed and the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) will no longer allow the formation of such an electoral front.”

After visiting al-Sistani early in January, Abdul-Mahdi said: “there are now two coalitions in Iraq. From our side, we wanted to form only one, but now this opportunity has been lost.” He added that "in the forthcoming elections there will certainly be two lists and a fair and realistic competition, that is, there will be differences between the two fronts that we are going to clarify.”

Iraqi political sources said that there are clear differences between the electoral programs of al-Maliki and the Supreme Council. These sources told Niqash that “differences are clear on how to deal with neighboring countries. While al-Maliki is accusing Syria of hosting the Baathists and providing terrorists with logistic services to infiltrate into Iraq, the Supreme Councils is calling for renewed relations with Damascus to ensure that no terrorists are allowed to enter into Iraq. There are also differences with regard to Saudi Arabia. Al-Maliki has accused it of taking a negative stance towards Iraq, but, Ammar al-Hakeem, the head of the Council, described Saudi Arabia as Iraq’s “big brother”, following a visit he made to Manama, Bahrain.

Sadeq al-Musawi, President of Iraq’s Foundation for Media and International Relations, told Niqash that “the different agendas will prevent al-Maliki from uniting his efforts with the national Iraqi alliance. Others see less grand coalitions as more likely, among them Dr. Tareq al-Baydani, a civil activist. "The Iraqi constitution has created a state with a parliamentary system and this means that only parliamentary coalitions can turn a candidate into Prime Minister. This is why such strong campaigns have developed among candidates,” said al-Baydani.

“Those who win the highest number of seats will certainly name the new prime minister,” said judge Wael Abdul-Latif. “It is elections which will be decisive in this regard without any conflicts. Voters will decide which party they will choose and with this the quota system will vanish and a national unity government will be formed. This form of government is the most democratic worldwide,” Abdul-Latif explained.

“An alliance will be created between the State of law Coalition and the National Iraqi Alliance. It will be later on joined by the Kurdistan Alliance. Thus there will be an alliance which has enough seats to form a government. Other forces will accept this reality and learn to deal with it” said Abdul-Latif.

Six major alliances plan to compete in the forthcoming elections and they all have significant support in Iraq. The six are: the State of Law, the National Iraqi Alliance, the National Iraqi Front, the Unity of Iraq, the Kurdistan Alliance and the Tawafuq Front.

“When the State of Law, headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the National Iraqi Alliance, headed by Ammar al-Hakeem were formed, predictions focused on a partnership between the ‘influential forces,” said Hussein Allawi, lecturer at the Faculty of Political Sciences, al-Nahrain University. “Other forces, competing against al-Maliki and contesting his role as prime minister, “will not create the needed grounds for putting an end to the prevailing sectarian quota system,” Allawi said.

Instead, competition over the position of prime minister will either take place within a grand coalition (representing a majority of parliamentary seats) as it forms the next government, or it will take place between al-Maliki and opponent parties, parties too small to ever win a parliamentary majority and therefore be able to form a government.

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