Baghdad and London, Asharq Al-Awsat—A spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition said on Tuesday it was pressing ahead with the nomination of Maliki for a third term as premier, and denied reports that he had demanded immunity from prosecution as the price for stepping down.
State of Law MP Ihsan Al-Awadi told Asharq Al-Awsat that there were “no legal or political obstacles to stop us forming a government in our capacity as the largest parliamentary bloc, with our only candidate being Nuri Al-Maliki.”
Awadi dismissed reports that Maliki had set a series of preconditions, including immunity from prosecution, as the price of stepping down and allowing another candidate to step forward, branding them “part of a plan to cause confusion by partners [in the National Alliance] who have become completely bankrupt.”
The Shi’ite-led National Alliance is made up of Maliki’s State of Law coalition, followers of populist Shi’ite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, and another coalition dominated by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI).
“We have achieved good understandings with our Sunni and Kurdish brothers. Many parties said they had no problem with Maliki and some say they will accept any candidate from the National Alliance, which means Maliki, as the State of Law is the largest bloc within the National Alliance,” Awadi claimed.
Although many Sunni and Kurdish leaders have said they will not support Maliki’s bid for a third term in office, the State of Law MP said there was still a chance for Maliki to form a government.
“I can say that we have reached good understandings with influential figures among [Sunnis and Kurds], and the fact that Maliki helped the Peshmerga with the air force when they collapsed in Sinjar and other areas will have influence on the political understandings regardless of the position of [Kurdistan Regional Government President] Massoud Barzani,” he said.
Awadi’s comments came as the deadline to nominate a prime minister approaches, placing more pressure on both Maliki and his opponents.
According to the Iraqi constitution, Iraq’s largest parliamentary bloc will name its candidate to form a government at the end of this week. Legal expert Tariq Harb said: “The deadline given to the president to ask the candidate of the largest parliamentary bloc to form a government is August 8, 2014, and as this day is a Friday—the start of the weekend—the date for the request will be Sunday.”
Meanwhile, the Iraqi Forces Alliance, which represents the majority of Sunni blocs in parliament, said it would support a candidate from the National Alliance, but would not accept Maliki remaining in office.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, it said: “There is no doubt at all that following the establishment of the National Alliance it became the largest parliamentary bloc; and according to the Federal Court . . . the largest bloc will present its candidate for the premiership according to constitutional deadlines.”
The statement also called on the National Alliance to speed up the process of choosing a new candidate.
Meanwhile, Reuters quoted the unnamed Iranian official as saying: “We have reached a conclusion that Maliki is no longer capable of preserving Iraqi unity.”
The official said the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad held meetings with political parties and prospective candidates in relation to this issue, but admitted that finding a replacement for Maliki was difficult.
He said: “There are not many candidates who are capable of preserving Iraqi unity.”
Shi’a groups have mooted names of possible replacements for Maliki, including Ahmed Chalabi, Ibrahim Al-Jaafari and Adel Abdul Mahdi.
Maliki, meanwhile, remained defiant. Speaking in his weekly television address on Wednesday, he rejected any external attempts to influence the process of forming a new government in an apparent reference to Iran.
Any attempt to form a government in an unconstitutional manner would “open the gates of hell,” he added.