BAGHDAD (AP) – Iraq’s prime minister said Saturday he is the only nominee from his political party to run the nation’s next government, rejecting suggestions of a consensus candidate to satisfy those concerned about his leadership.
Nouri al-Maliki’s comments revealed an unwillingness to budge in negotiations with his Shiite partners over forming Iraq’s likely next government despite a process that has dragged on in the nearly three months since the March 7 election left the country without a clear winner.
Other Shiite political groups and religious leaders whose support al-Maliki is depending on have been lukewarm at best about him remaining in the job.
Asked by reporters if his State of Law political coalition would compromise on a candidate to satisfy the concerns, al-Maliki said there is “only one nominee to be a prime minister.” “No, the State of Law insists on its candidate,” al-Maliki told reporters in the city of Najaf. It was clear he was talking about himself.
Al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition came in second in the election behind a coalition backed by Iraq’s minority Sunnis. But no single group won an outright majority, making a coalition government necessary.
The prime minister’s party has joined up with the religious Shiite Iraqi National Alliance in hopes of capturing enough seats in parliament to run the next government.
The leader of one of the two main political parties that make up the alliance, powerful Shiite cleric Ammar al-Hakim, has said he does not believe al-Maliki has enough Iraqi or international support to remain prime minister.
The other wing of the Iraqi National Alliance, led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, intensely dislikes al-Maliki because he crushed their Mahdi Army militia in 2008 and jailed thousands of them. The Sadrists initially rejected al-Maliki as head of a new government. But politicians involved in negotiations say Sadrists are now softening in the face of pressure by neighboring Shiite power Iran to back al-Maliki.
Al-Maliki, whose political coalition fell two seats behind his Sunni-backed rival, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, has demanded ballot recounts and other legal challenges in an attempt to stay in power.
Cementing a Shiite-dominated coalition government that excludes Sunnis could worsen violence, particularly attacks against the government and its security forces. Since Saddam Hussein’s ouster in 2003, Sunnis have been marginalized, and disaffected Sunni Arabs formed the core of the insurgency.
Last week, Iraq’s election commission sent the final vote results to the Supreme Court for certification, which could be a major first step toward ending a delay that has heightened tensions in the fragile democracy as American military forces prepare to go home. There is no deadline for the court to certify the results, but U.S. officials believe it will be soon.
Al-Maliki was in Najaf for a 90-minute meeting with the country’s most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. After the meeting, al-Maliki said al-Sistani urged him to work quickly to seat a new government as outlined by Iraq’s constitution.
Al-Sistani voiced similar concerns last week to Allawi, who leads the Iraqiya coalition that won the most votes in the election.
“We are ready to meet the brothers in the Iraqiya list,” al-Maliki told reporters on Saturday.