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As US troops leave, Iraq inches toward a new government

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met Tuesday with Ayad Allawi to discuss forming a new government and decide who will be prime minister. But the main Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish factions are still negotiating.

By Jane ArrafCorrespondent / June 30, 2010

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, left, and Ayad Allawi gesture during a meeting at Mr. Allawi's compound in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday. The meeting was the second between the two men who have both been battling to become the country's next prime minister since the inconclusive March 7 election.

Hadi Mizban/AP

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Baghdad

Iraq’s Shiite alliance is proposing a new, more restrictive role for the prime minister. But months after Iraqis went to the polls in a pivotal national election, who that prime minister will be is uncertain. The only thing clear about the eventual new government is that it will be shaped by the sectarianism that almost everyone condemns.

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"This is the bitter reality that we are talking about,” says Ali al-Adeeb, a senior adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, when asked whether the next government would retain the quota system in which government posts are divided among Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. “We also don’t want to speak of it like that, but whether we want it or not, that is what it has become.”

Dressed in a dark blue pinstripe suit and wingtip shoes, Mr. Adeeb explains that oppression of Shiites and Kurds under Saddam Hussein’s largely Sunni regime, and the dangers from hostile Sunni neighbors, mean that the Shiite majority must remain vigilant.

“If you want to understand it you must put yourself in the place of an Iraqi,” says Adeeb, who like most Shiite leaders, spent years in exile.

On Tuesday, Iraq's prime minister held a long-awaited meeting with the man who wants his job. But Mr. Maliki’s Shiite alliance and Ayad Allawi’s secular party seem little closer to forming a coalition government. Both claim the right to be prime minister and head a government – Maliki because his alliance formed after the election now holds a majority of seats and Mr. Allawi because his Iraqiya coalition actually won the most seats in the March vote.

The deadlock means the only way a coalition government will be formed is by a carefully crafted agreement between the main Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish factions – a process now expected to last into the fall.

"I think we're still in the preliminary stage," US Ambassador Chris Hill told reporters Tuesday. "I think it's going to be fair to say that any eventual solutions are going to require hard and tough bargaining," said Mr. Hill, who might end up finishing his assignment here in September before a new government takes shape.

Why curb powers of PM?

Maliki is popular in the street but widely resented by many other political leaders, including fellow Shiites. They accuse him of behaving like a dictator in measures that included setting up separate security services during his four years in power and launching military offensives without consultation.

Adeeb, reelected to parliament as a member of Maliki’s Dawa Party and a firm supporter of Maliki, says their Shiite alliance had agreed on a mechanism that would clip the wings of a new prime minister to prevent such unilateral action.

“We reached an agreement with the national alliance … in order to restrict or bind unilateral movement by the prime minister,” he says. “The prime minister will be the representative of this entity and therefore he should restrict himself to the strategies or the political programs of the alliance.”

The Iraqi National Alliance (INA) includes the Dawa Party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and the Sadr movement – followers of hard-line cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the biggest single bloc in parliament. The coalition has made clear that it will be guided by the directives of Shiite religious leaders in Najaf.

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