Political Maneuvering, Coalition-Building Continue in Iraq

BY Larisa Epatko  May 6, 2010 at 6:05 PM EDT

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Photo by Mohammed Sawaf/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Photo by Mohammed Sawaf/AFP/Getty Images

Since March 7 elections handed the ruling government a narrow defeat, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has announced a new Shiite coalition that gives it more seats than the secular coalition led by former premier Iyad Allawi but still four seats shy of an outright majority in parliament.

The coalition is composed of the two main Shiite parties — al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc and the Iraqi National Alliance, which includes the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq and the followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Although no one has yet been named prime minister, the main Kurdish bloc, the Kurdish Alliance, has said it will back whoever is chosen.

“We will not veto anyone chosen by the alliances to take up the post of prime minister,” Roz Nawri Chawis, the autonomous Kurdish region’s deputy prime minister, said Thursday, according to Agence France-Presse. But support will likely hinge on certain conditions, including greater sovereignty and oil control, the New York Times reported.

Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc won the most seats in parliament — 91 — following elections in March. Al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance secured 89 seats, and the other major Shiite group, Iraqi National Alliance won 70 seats in the 325-member Council of Representatives. The new Shiite coalition is still four seats short of the 163 needed for a majority.

The joining of forces between the Shiite-led blocs raised concerns that it would further alienate the Sunni minority. According to an agreement signed earlier in the week, disputes would be mediated by a small group of clerics, known as the marjaiyah, led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The Shiite coalition-building was a logical outgrowth of elections that yielded nearly identical results from four years ago, said Joost Hiltermann, deputy program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, “the only difference being that the Shiite alliance had broken into two, so they had to concede victory to Allawi’s bloc. Now they’ve come back together and they once again constitute a larger bloc and they will forge ahead.”

But it’s still early in the process of forming a government, with results of the recount in Baghdad still forthcoming, and election results still awaiting certification, Hiltermann said.

After results are certified, the largest coalition will negotiate and dole out their picks for prime minister, president, speaker, some deputies, and the ministries of oil, finance, defense, interior and foreign affairs, and come up with a governing program, he said. “I don’t expect a government to emerge before September.”