BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Iraq’s Shi’ite alliance backed incumbent Nuri al-Maliki as the next prime minister Friday after months of argument, but he still faces severe obstacles in his bid for a second term.
Maliki won the nomination with support from the political movement of anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which previously opposed a second term for the prime minister, who sent troops to crush its Mehdi Army militia in 2008.
The decision by the National Alliance, a merger of Maliki’s Shi’ite-led State of Law coalition and the Iran-friendly Iraqi National Alliance (INA), marked a breakthrough in talks among Iraq’s political factions since the parliamentary election on March 7, which produced no clear winner.
“As a result of talks conducted by (NA) political blocs, the blocs have agreed to nominate Nuri al-Maliki for the title of prime minister,” Falih al-Fayadh, an INA lawmaker, said at a news conference after a meeting of alliance leaders.
“By announcing this nomination the NA promises the Iraqi people that it has sincere willingness to build, change and overcome the obstacles of the past.”
Maliki still faces obstacles on the way to a second term but the announcement heightened prospects for another Shi’ite-dominated government more than seven years after the U.S.-led invasion removed Sunni leader Saddam Hussein.
Iraqis had hoped the March election would produce a stable government after decades of dictatorship, economic sanctions and war as U.S. troops prepare to leave by the end of 2011 and the government tries to exploit massive oil reserves to rebuild decrepit oilfields and infrastructure.
Maliki, who rose from political obscurity as a compromise candidate in 2006, still faces stiff opposition from the Sunni-backed, cross-sectarian Iraqiya bloc led by secularist former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and dissidents within his own alliance.
Some Shi’ite leaders said the nomination was agreed by two key blocs in the National Alliance, State of Law, which has 89 seats, and the Sadrist movement, which has about 39, with smaller factions.
“This announcement does not represent all INA parties,” said Hassan al-Shimari, head of al-Fadhila bloc, an INA member that holds seven seats. “This is a deal between Sadrists and SOL (State of Law).”
In Washington, the White House said it wanted to see a broad-based Iraqi government.
“We believe all four winning blocs must play a role in the coalition government, including Iraqiya and the Kurdistan Alliance,” a senior administration official said.
Maliki called on all winning blocs to take part in “serious, constructive and responsible talks” on the formation of a government.
“Talks can put the disputes behind us and overcome the political wrangling to form a national partnership government that all Iraqi people take part in,” he said.
The Shi’ite alliance, if it holds together, would still be several seats short of the 163 needed for a governing majority, meaning a deal with other blocs would still be needed.
Allawi’s Iraqiya, which won 91 seats in the March vote — two more than State of Law — has said it will not participate in a Maliki government.
Joost Hiltermann, an analyst with International Crisis Group think tank, said he did not expect to see a new government in Iraq before the end of the year.
“He (Maliki) will have to overcome all of his opponents’ reluctance to see him return as prime minister because of the perception they share that he abused his power in office during his tenure,” Hiltermann said.