Ayad Allawi won the biggest bloc in Iraq’s recent election. (AFP photo)
Hussain Abdul-Hussain, April 1, 2010
Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya party won the biggest bloc in Iraq’s parliamentary elections early last month with 91 seats. Incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki came in second with 89, while the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) finished third with 70. The Kurdish bloc’s representation shrank to 43 seats.
But what do these numbers mean in Iraq’s 325-seat parliament?
Despite winning the biggest bloc, most indicators show that Allawi will not be asked to form a cabinet. It is true that Article 76 of the Iraqi Constitution stipulates that the president assigns a member of the biggest bloc to form the government. However, the article does not specify what the biggest bloc consists of. It should also be noted that the president will be elected by this same parliament, which means that the selection of the president, speaker and prime minister will be part of a single prearranged political deal.
Aware of this “catch” Allawi’s bloc insisted that the term “biggest bloc” be restricted to the winning bloc and not post-election alliances.
Maliki, for his part, referred the disagreement to the nation’s Federal Court, which ruled that the biggest bloc can include post-election alliances. As such, Maliki can recruit three lawmakers from any of the 13 elected “tickets” to form the biggest bloc with 92 seats.
In the absence of a constitutional mandate forcing his appointment, Allawi is at a disadvantage. Unless he can bring in all the MPs and bar the 159 members of the Maliki and INA blocs, which would be virtually impossible, his electoral victory will account for naught.
Allawi, heading a predominantly Sunni bloc, will find it complicated to sell himself to the pro-Iran Shia INA, and he will certainly stay away from his competitor, Maliki. He will also not find it easy to win over the Kurds, who have been apprehensive about the Sunni platform that opposes federalism and denies Kurdish-sought rights in the disputed city of Kirkuk, where the two groups fought a tough electoral battle.
Other disagreements between Allawi and the Kurds surfaced during the run up to the elections, when Sunni Vice President Tareq Al-Hashimi, a candidate on Allawi’s ticket, fiercely attacked the Kurds, arguing that they should not be allowed to maintain their dominance over the presidency and demanding that Iraq’s president be an Arab by law.
Already in advanced negotiations, Maliki and the INA have indicated that the next prime minister should come from their ranks. Maliki will also find it easier to win over the Kurds since he has no reservations about a Kurdish president, and rather enjoys good ties with President Jalal Talabani, who is believed to be running for re-election, with the support of his 43-seat strong coalition.
NOW Lebanon already predicted that regardless of the winner, the most probable coalition will include Maliki, the INA and the Kurds, which will offer Allawi, a Shia figurehead of a Sunni bloc, a “take-it-or-leave-it” second prize, by inviting his bloc to fill less important political positions, such as the speaker, one of two vice presidents, one of two deputy prime ministers and a handful of lesser jobs.
If he fails to become prime minister, Allawi might come under regional pressure – like Saad Hariri in Lebanon – to make concessions and accept whatever he is offered, under the banner of national reconciliation.
His only chance for a consolation prize would be to take his political rival down with him by demanding the appointment of any premier other than Maliki in return for his “cooperation”.
That said, Maliki’s replacement might not guarantee undercutting Iran’s influence in Iraq and might indeed prove to be a Pandora’s Box, as a new premier might lean more toward Tehran than any of his predecessors.
So far, the only possible tactic that could have reduced Iran’s role in Iraq would have been a regional Arab endorsement of Maliki, allowing him to emerge as a national leader against Iranian pressure to appoint a puppet ruler. Failure to do so looks to have forced Maliki – or anyone else from his bloc – to lean on Iran’s INA as the only fallback plan available.
If Allawi enters the government, Iraq’s future prime minister will owe his job to Iran, which means that Iranian influence will remain on the rise, while Sunni fortunes will have stalled at the doorstep of a frustrated Allawi.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain is a visiting fellow at Chatham House and a correspondent for Al-Rai newspaper