Iraq: New alliances begin to take shape after elections

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Iraqi men carry a big election campaign poster following the closure of polls in Iraq's parliamentary election, on April 30, 2014 in Baghdad. (Photo: AFP-Prashant Rao)

By: Mostafa Nasser

Published Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Now that the Iraqi parliamentary elections are over, talks regarding choosing a new prime minister have started. Shia parliamentary blocs are now looking to revive the National Alliance in order to reach an understanding among each other about who to nominate as prime minister.

Although all the pre-election propaganda has ended, another political battle is on the horizon. The Iraqi public is anticipating alliances and agreements with both enthusiasm and caution, while the leaders of the largest parliamentary blocs are waiting for the election’s final results before finalizing any alliances.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is depending on his allies to form the largest parliamentary bloc that would be able to elect him for a third term, while members of the National Iraqi Alliance affiliated with Muqtada al-Sadr and Ammar al-Hakim confirm the persistence of their strategic alliance. Hakim’s Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq went even further when it announced re-establishing a Shia alliance, regardless of whether Maliki joins or not, although he came ahead in the polls with a wide margin in 11 provinces.

Sources from inside the Hawza (a seminary for traditional higher Islamic studies) in Najaf told Al-Akhbar that efforts were launched with the blessing of the religious marja (clerics who act as religious guides) to re-establish the Shia alliance which includes Sadr, Hakim and Maliki’s coalitions in addition to smaller Shia political parties. They indicated that the religious authorities in Najaf are keen on restructuring the alliance.

Sources added that “Hakim had discussed the issue last Friday with the marja in Najaf so that they would play a role in convincing the leaders of Shia political factions to reach an understanding and come up with consensual solutions that guarantee the strength of the Shia alliance and produce a government that can run the country, provide services, and rebuild administrative and economic institutions.”

Last Saturday, one day after these discussions, Hakim used the annual celebration of Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim’s martyrdom to gather the leaders of the parliamentary blocs and political parties in his office in Baghdad. Sources said that talks held between the political leaders focused on the possibility, or lack thereof of a third term for Maliki and the return of governing through consensual politics, or attempting to govern through a parliamentary majority in the absence of the MPs from Maliki’s party.

These efforts to establish an alliance that is not fragmented, as was the case in the last parliament, comes amid many challenges. One challenge is Maliki’s aspirations for a third term, especially after opening communication channels with Hakim and the announcement by some Sunni candidates of a possible alliance with the prime minister. One such candidate is Mishaan al-Jabouri who returned to Iraq after the charges brought against him by the government were dropped. Another is the acting defense minister, Saadoun al-Dulaimi, who received a high percentage of votes in the Anbar province.

News emerged that Maliki turned his back on efforts to establish a Shia alliance because it will require presenting a compromise candidate for all the factions of the anticipated alliance to accept, which means Maliki will not get a third term. While Hakim and Sadr insist on not giving Maliki a third term, Osama al-Nujaifi and Iyad Allawi’s blocs announced the emergence of an alliance between them to confront the prime minister. In addition, the Kurdistan Democratic Party headed by the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, also insisted on its decision not to give Maliki a third term.

Amidst these agreements and announcements that preceded the election’s final results, which are supposed to be announced - according to the election commission - at the end of this month, the parties’ efforts clash with article 55 of the constitution. The article stipulates that the parliament should elect in its first session its speaker, then their first deputy and second deputy, by an absolute majority of the total number of the parliament members by direct secret ballot. The absolute majority of the Iraqi parliament is two thirds, i.e., 216 members out of 328. This number requires alliances between small and large political blocs. According to this constitutional article, the failure of the parliament to vote by a two thirds majority means entrusting the task of government formation to the largest parliamentary bloc. The large blocs, however, will face a constitutional quandary that requires them to reach satisfactory alliances in the next two months.

The Citizen’s bloc of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq announced that the next prime minister will will be nominated by the National Iraqi Alliance, pointing to the start of negotiations to restructure Shia alliances.

The head of the Citizen’s bloc, Baqir Jabr al-Zubaidi, said: “Discussions are now underway between the parties of the National Iraqi Alliance to mend this alliance,” pointing out that “the next prime minister will be elected from inside the National Iraqi Alliance.”

Zubaidi, who was interior minister between 2005-2006, added: “The three major alliances, the Citizen’s bloc, Sadr’s al-Ahrar bloc and Maliki’s State of Law (Dawlat al-Qanun) bloc will name the next prime minister based on a tripartite agreement between them.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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