Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- What took place inside the house of the highest Shia authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, during his meeting with the leader of the Iraqiya bloc Iyad Allawi? What is taking place in the homes of Iraqi politicians in Baghdad who are making preparations for the future?
It is clear that the political reality in Iraq changes with every new position or statement issued by politicians or with the news of each meeting between politicians of different electoral blocs. However, the surprise this week was in the seniority of the political leaders who met one another, and the results of these meetings that were contrary to what some politicians hoped for.
The first surprise was the statements issued by the leaders of the two major Kurdish parties; the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan which is led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and the Democratic Party of Kurdistan which is led by President of the Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani. The two leaders issued statements in order to clarify one important point, and that is their agreement that Iyad Allawi – as the leader of the coalition that won the largest number of seats in the Iraqi elections – should be given the opportunity to form the next government, in accordance with the Iraqi constitution.
During an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, President Talabani said that “the Iraqi constitution is written in classical Arabic,” meaning that it is written clearly and does not require a lot of clarification and explanation. The Iraqiya bloc won the most seats in the Iraqi elections, and it is seeking to conclude [electoral] alliances to form a new government. Therefore the initiative remains in the hands of the Iraqiya bloc to exercise its constitutional duty [to form a government].
The statements by the two Kurdish leaders came as a surprise to some electoral blocs, and caused others to analyze and interpret this news and look to the future to the point that some politicians have interpreted these statements as an indication that a prior agreement existed between Allawi and his Iraqiya bloc and the two Kurdish parties. However the statement issued by Talabani and Barzani is nothing more than a correct reading of the Iraqi constitution and the constitutional duty of the Iraqiya list. These statements must also be read clearly and in light of the fact that Talabani is the President of Iraq, and according to credible statements he is set to serve another term in office according to agreements concluded between the political parties and therefore he is responsible for inviting a candidate to form a government. According to statements by President Talabani, if Allawi is unable to form a government, it is certain that he will advise the president to ask another candidate to perform this task. We must also remember that President Talabani played this role previously when he invited Nuri al-Maliki to form the last government.
Before looking in detail at the plans being made by the politicians in Baghdad, and their reaction to the statements issued by the two Kurdish leaders, political circles in Baghdad expressed shocked at the news that Iyad Allawi and senior members of the Iraqiya bloc including Tariq al-Hashemi and Rafi al-Issawi had met with the highest Shia authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf.
Allawi visited Najaf after arriving in Baghdad from overseas, following a visit with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara and a meeting with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman. Allawi visited the Grand Ayatollah in order to get to the heart of the issue and discover al-Sistani’s position on who should form the next government of Iraq himself.
This is not the first time that Allawi has visited Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, as Allawi, as a Shia, has been accustomed to visiting Shia marjas since childhood, and this is despite the fact that the Iraqiya bloc leader has a secular outlook. The primary achievement of this meeting between the Iraqiya bloc leadership and Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani was to confirm al-Sistani’s neutrality with regards to who should form the next government of Iraq, and that al-Sistani keeps an equal distance from all electoral coalitions. However this is the Shia marja’s traditional stance with regards to such situations, and the Iraqiya leadership merely wanted to confirm this after there were rumours that the Grand Ayatollah intended to support the two Shia coalitions; Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition, and Ammar al-Hakim’s National Iraqi Alliance.
In fact, some senior members of the State of Law coalition leaked news that the Shia marja said that “the [Iraqi] premiership should not go beyond the two allied Shia coalitions” and that “even if the Iraqiya bloc is led by a Shia, it is a secular bloc, and it has a large proportion of Arab Sunni deputies.” Some politicians began to act as if such rumours were true, and attempted to capitalize on them during negotiations.
A source within the Iraqiya bloc who was among those who attended the meeting with Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “the [Iraqiya] bloc leadership wanted to be certain with regards to the validity or invalidity of these statements from Ayatollah al-Sistani directly, and then frankly inform the Iraqi public of the truth, although we were given assurances from the marja that al-Sistani had previously announced his neutrality [on this issue].”
The Iraqiya source, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said, “We spoke directly and frankly with the marja, and we asked whether the marja truly preferred that the next [Iraqi] Prime Minister come from one of the two Shia coalitions, and whether he supports them.” He revealed that “the marja was surprised by these statements [attributed to him] and he confirmed his neutrality, and that he keeps an equal distance from all [political parties]. He also issued a categorical denial that he had suggested such a scenario, and he said that he supports the implementation of the constitution and leaves the issue of forming a government to politicians, so long as this government is a government of national participation.”
The source also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the Iraqiya bloc considers this visit a success and that the marja confirming his neutral position represents support of the constitutional process, and that the Grand Ayatollah not saying that the next prime minister should be from one of the Shia blocs represents support for the political process.”
Against the backdrop of this news, a source within the Sadrist trend informed Asharq Al-Awsat that it is continuing talks with the Iraqiya bloc, and there are hopes that these talks may have positive results. The source also confirmed the Sadrist trend’s insistence not to accept Prime Minister al-Maliki serving a second term in office.