The major contenders for the position of Iraq’s top government spot have been identified. Let the political games begin.
Iraqâ€™s interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, sought to widen his support base yesterday in an attempt to keep his job and lead the next government.
Mr Allawi is one of two men in the frame for the post, the other being the Islamic Shiite politician Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
Mr Jaafari is the clear front-runner, having won the backing on Tuesday of Iraqâ€™s most powerful political alliance. But Mr Allawi, a secular Shiite who has ruled the country for eight months, said yesterday that he had pulled together support from outside his own political list.
He did not specify who his new backers were, saying only that they were “brothers from smaller lists” than his own, who won a handful of seats in last monthâ€™s election.
At stake is the chance to spearhead Iraqâ€™s first democratically elected government in more than 50 years.
The Shiite alliance backing Mr Jaafari won 48 per cent of the vote in the election, giving it 140 seats and a slim overall majority in the new 275-seat parliament.
But it does not have the two-thirds majority it needs to secure Mr Jaafariâ€™s appointment, and will have to cut deals with other parties and coalitions to get its way.
It could appeal to the Kurds, who finished second in the election and will have 75 seats. However, the Kurds might back Mr Allawi, whose list won 14 per cent and will have 40 seats.
Iraqâ€™s deputy president, Rowsch Shways, a prominent Kurd, said yesterday that Mr Jaafari was “a man I can work with”, but it was too soon to say he would get the job.
There is still the possibility that the Shiite alliance, which has a religious core but counts secular Shiites, Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen among its members, will break up.
It will certainly be interesting watching this unfold. The Shiite alliance is in the catbird’s seat but, even if it remains completely unified, would still need help from either the Kurds or Allawi. No other party can get the prime minister’s position without defections from the Shiite group. Apparently, the Kurds are wanting to deal in exchange for the presidency position so they have to be the target of major negotiations, as their votes alone could put the Shiite alliance over the top.
There are three important things to note in this whole matter. First, it was obviously extremely wise to put in the two-thirds majority requirement, practically guaranteeing cooperation to some extent or other. Second, the Sunnis’ poor election turnout has left them on the sidelines for now, certainly fodder for what the army would call an After Action Review. Third and perhaps most important, I find it wonderful to see the current leader of Iraq wheeling and dealing with rivals in an attempt to maintain power — such a refreshing change from just killing the opposition. Hopefully, the rest of the Arab Middle East will take note of the change in the wind.