BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Iraq’s incumbent Shi’ite Muslim prime minister said the next government to be formed after an inconclusive election in March had to include the Sunni-backed coalition that won the most seats.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is seeking a second term, said in an interview aired on Friday it was too early for Iraq to be run by a majority government and a “national partnership government” was needed to ensure stability after years of war. That meant the next government would be weak due to its subservience to conflicting interests, he said. “I had wished that the (next) government would be formed on the basis of a political majority, leaving behind the quota-based system, but it seems that idea is still premature,” Maliki told the U.S.-funded al-Hurra television network. “The thing we have to accept is that there must be a national partnership government. A national partnership government means all main factions making up the Iraqi community are represented in it.”
Maliki’s Shi’ite-led State of Law alliance came second in the March 7 vote with 89 seats in the 325-seat parliament.
The cross-sectarian Iraqiya bloc led by former prime minister Iyad Allawi won the most seats at 91 after gaining broad backing from minority Sunnis who dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein and who are hungry to regain influence after seven years of Shi’ite political supremacy.
The results still need to be certified, a process that could yet take weeks. In the meantime, Maliki’s bloc and Iraq’s other main Shi’ite-dominated coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), have been inching toward a tie-up that could sideline Allawi, a secular Shi’ite. That could increase sectarian tensions if Sunnis feel aggrieved, at a time when the all-out sectarian conflict that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion has faded and U.S. troops are preparing to end combat operations and withdraw.
Sunni resentment at their loss of power after Saddam’s fall helped fuel a fierce insurgency and fighting in which tens of thousands died. Negotiations over forming the next government are taking place against a backdrop of threats by Sunni Islamist insurgents seeking to reignite wholesale sectarian slaughter. “The Iraqiya bloc represents most Sunni Arabs, therefore they must be partners in forming the government because this element must be represented,” Maliki said. “I fear that the next government will be weaker than the current government because all the partners in the political process are claiming ministerial positions in advance. It is an unfortunate thing,” he added.
Asked about Allawi specifically, the prime minister said he had nothing against him personally. But he criticised those he believed yearned for a return to Saddam’s Baath Party-led past and who put partisan interests over national interests. Maliki’s comments came amid growing speculation that his chances of being reappointed prime minister are dimming.
One of the INA’s most powerful factions, anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s movement, has opposed his nomination and merger talks between the INA and Maliki’s State of Law have included discussions on an internal election to pick a prime minister, a vote that Maliki may not necessarily win. “An alliance to form the government that only consists of two blocs and which excludes other blocs will destroy the political process and national unity,” Maliki said.