Allawi faces uphill struggle to turn victory into coalition

The arduous process of forming a government after Iyad Allawi’s narrow election victory has begun in earnest in Iraq, with early signs showing the victor will struggle to win the coalition support he needs to be appointed prime minister.

Allawi’s victory has won warm support from around the region, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan all sending his office messages of congratulations.

However, Iran is yet to react to the election result, which appears to have relegated Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc to a secondary role in any eventual coalition government.

A leading member of Allawi’s cross-sectarian Iraqiya bloc, Osama al-Najafi, on Sunday revealed that Iraqiya was considering marginalising Maliki, the incumbent prime minister, and his supporters, by attempting to form a coalition that does not include any of the 89 seats that State of Law won.

Allawi needs to put together a coalition of 163 seats to form a government. That figure accounts for 50% plus one seat in the new 325-seat Parliament. “Iraqiya has 91 seats, the Iraqi National Alliance has 70 and the Kurds have 43,” said Najafi.
“That is 204 seats and is more than enough.”

Lesser role
However, such a move would widely be seen as destabilising in Iraq, where a large minority of people still voted for Maliki. A more likely scenario is for Maliki to be offered a lesser role in government in return for some of his supporters being offered prominent ministries.

Maliki is still laying claim to the top job, despite his loss. He plans to mount a rearguard campaign that positions himself as the only viable option for the prime minister’s office, because Allawi’s support came largely from Sunni provinces and not the Shia majority heartland that held the reins of power for the past four years.

But Najafi said: “Anyone who says we do not have a claim to the prime minister’s office is behaving in a clearly sectarian way. It is in the Constitution that the victor has the right to form a government.

“Iran fears that their role will be weaker now and that is very clear. But that will not stop us talking with anyone, even Maliki, to form a government.”

Al-Sadr not a spent force
A resurgent Sadrist political bloc looms as a key player in the new Parliament, defying predictions by US officials and Maliki’s supporters that they are a spent force. Najafi confirmed that Iraqiya had already courted the militant Shia grouping, which follows its exiled leader in Iran, Moqtada al-Sadr.

Maliki’s supporters have also opened a dialogue with Sadr, in an effort to end three years of enmity between the two men and overturn al-Sadr’s vow to veto Maliki as a candidate for a second term.

Meanwhile, Allawi appears to have won valuable support from Sunni clerics who had vowed to oppose his rise in the wake of the two military operations he led with the US military in Fallujah in 2004, during his nine-month stint as a an American-appointed transitional leader.

“This is politics and politics is a dirty art,” said Sheikh Mahmoud al-Sumaidi, a leading Sunni cleric. “The Sunni scholars have forgiven him for Falluja and we support him being prime minister.” - guardian.co.uk

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