Breakthrough for new Iraq government? Allawi meets Maliki, Sadr
A flurry of meetings could signal the formation of a new Iraq government by next week's deadline. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's main challenger met with him tonight, after meeting kingmaker Muqtada al-Sadr yesterday.
Bassem Tellawi/AP Photo
Top politicians are stepping up efforts to break a political deadlock and form a new Iraq government more than four months after national elections gave a narrow victory to Prime Minister Nouri al-Malikiâ€™s main challenger.
Mr. Maliki met late Tuesday night in Baghdad with former premier Ayad Allawi, who leads the Sunni-backed Iraqiya coalition that beat Malikiâ€™s Shiite bloc by two seats in Iraqâ€™s 325-seat parliament. Giving little away, delegate Mohammed Allawi said the talks were â€śpositive" and aimed to form a government "in the next few days," though no top positions were discussed.
That came one day after an unusual meeting in Damascus, Syria, between Allawi and the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who rarely leaves Iran where he is undergoing religious training. His Shiite followers won 39 seats â€“ making him kingmaker.
The reclusive junior cleric praised Allawiâ€™s party as â€śready to compromiseâ€ť to form a government. When asked about his readiness to work with Allawi, whom he had called a tool of the Americans when he was prime minister â€“ Allawi had nearly had the cleric killed in 2004 â€“ Sadr said he could â€śforget all previous differences for Iraq, so that the political process can move forward.â€ť
But Sadr upheld his opposition to Maliki â€“ who in the past deployed Iraqi security forces against Sadrâ€™s militia followers â€“ becoming premier again.
â€śI havenâ€™t even met [Maliki] â€“ how can I ally with him?â€ť Sadr said.
Progress, but not a breakthrough
The political meetings sought to breathe new life into a process that has angered Iraqis. They are fed-up and frustrated with politicians who appear, with all their bickering, more worried about their posts and perks than with forging a government that can solve Iraqâ€™s multitude of problems.
â€śIf one imagines that Sadr had reconciled himself to Allawi being the lesser of two evils, youâ€™ve still got a long way to [go],â€ť says Mr. Dodge. â€śItâ€™s still much more likely that Allawi will take second fiddle to Malikiâ€¦ The Sadrists have a veto, and maybe in talking about Allawi so positively, Sadr is setting some form of [high] price for whatâ€™s to come.â€ť
Such a deal might include Allawi gaining several key security ministries, and serving perhaps as deputy prime minister for security, while Maliki â€“ or someone else from his State of Law bloc, if necessary â€“ takes the top spot.
â€śMuqtada [al-Sadr] is clear that we do not endorse Mr. Maliki to head the government a second time,â€ť says Bahaa al-Araji, a prominent Sadrist politician and reelected MP who chaired the last parliamentâ€™s legal committee.
This spring, the Sadrists held a nonbinding referendum on who should lead Iraq; Maliki came in fourth.
New deadline: Next Wednesday
In Damascus, both sides agreed the government should be formed by next Wednesday â€“ a deadline set by parliament that has already been extended beyond legal limits.
And if not Maliki as premier?
â€śI believe it will be a person who everybody can agree upon â€“ what we call a consensus choice, just like Mr. Maliki was. And we are optimistic,â€ť says Mr. Araji.
But completing that simple formula has been far beyond the reach of Iraqi politicians since the March 7 vote. Allawiâ€™s Iraqiya bloc won 91 seats, narrowly defeating Malikiâ€™s coalition, which took 89 seats.
But neither grouping has yet been able to muster the 163 necessary to form a government, and even fought semantic battles over the language of the constitution about who should be first to do so.
Allawi's Iraqiya frustrated with delay
â€śIf there had been real commitment to the constitution and real belief in the peaceful transfer of authority â€“ there would have been no issue to start with,â€ť says Maysoon al-Damlouji, spokeswoman for Iraqiya. â€śAs winners of the election, we should have been given our chance to form the government â€“ and had we failed, they would have had their chance.â€ť
â€śInstead, they chose to circumvent the results and the political process, first by demanding a manual recount, undermining the very credibility of the election â€“ and when that didnâ€™t work, by misinterpreting the words of the constitution,â€ť says Ms. Damlouji.
Speaking on the US satellite channel Hurra Iraq, Jabir al-Jabir, a member of Iraqiya, said: â€śIraqiya won the elections and is entitled to form the government, and I doubt Iraqiya would accept less than that. We have a duty towards the citizens who voted for us.â€ť
The result, despite the new surge of high-level political meetings, could be more deadlock in Iraq.
â€śYouâ€™ve got drift,â€ť says Dodge, who also teaches at Queen Mary, University of London. â€śThe ministers are not behaving like caretakers. Theyâ€™re still running the ministries and doing what they want without any constraint.â€ť
--- With reporting by Sahar Issa.