Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, seen here in August 2009, remains confident his alliance will retain the premiership despite finishing second in the election.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, seen here in August 2009, remains confident his alliance will retain the premiership despite finishing second in the election. Khalid Mohammed/AP
A federal court in Iraq has cleared an important obstacle to forming a new government by certifying the results of the March 7 parliamentary elections, but familiar political divisions could still take weeks to resolve.
The long delay between the vote and the certification has raised anxiety among Iraqis, as post-election violence flares. No party won a majority in Iraq's 325-seat parliament.
Judging by his recent comments, you might not realize that Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki finished second in the voting to former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Maliki has confidently predicted that his State Of Law party, which won 89 seats, will retain the premiership, and he has said that Allawi's Iraqiya bloc, which won 91 seats, is "wasting its time" in claiming the first right to form a government.
Maliki's confidence was boosted by State Of Law's announcement that it will join with the Shiite Iraqi National Alliance. Such a merger would be within four seats of controlling parliament and the government. Analysts say that merger, yet to be finalized, is being pushed hard by Iran.
Criticism Of Maliki
But some Iraqis worry about what they see as an undercurrent of hostility among key leaders as the process drags on.
Meysoun al-Damluji, a spokesman for Allawi's Iraqiya, voices a view heard increasingly outside Maliki's circle of supporters: that after four years in charge, Maliki has grown too accustomed to power.
"Personally, I think we face the danger of creating a new dictatorship in Iraq," he said. "I don't think Maliki has shown any willingness to leave his position; it'll be no different from the Baath Party."
The Baath is the party of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Maliki's supporters dismiss such talk as irrelevant sniping from political rivals. Yet echoes of the same discontent can be heard among Shiite politicians. The most outspoken are the followers of the anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who are still bitter over the major crackdown Maliki ordered against Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army.
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, seen here in April, is vying to form a government, too. Analysts say that on paper Iraq's minority Kurds may have an affinity for Allawi, a secular Shiite.
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, seen here in April, is vying to form a government, too. Analysts say that on paper Iraq's minority Kurds may have an affinity for Allawi, a secular Shiite. Khalid Mohammed/AP
Baha al-Araji, a leading member of the Sadr movement, says that Maliki in his time in power showed that he simply can't be trusted.
"It was a very hard experience, not just for the Sadr movement but the entire Iraq nation, so we don't trust Maliki's promises," he said. "Our leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, appeared on Al Jazeera and he's usually not negative in describing people, but he called Maliki a liar."
Kurds Watch Developments
Waiting in the wings, meanwhile, are the Kurds. Analysts say that on paper, Kurds have a natural affinity for Allawi, a secular Shiite. But there is bad blood between the Kurds and some of the leading Sunni politicians in Allawi's bloc.
Veteran Kurdish lawmaker Abdul Khaliq Zangana says whoever forms the next government must make room for strong Kurdish representation, probably including another term for Iraq's Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani.
"We're not saying pick Talabani because he's Kurdish, but because he is qualified, and also because the Kurds have a right to a share of power," he said.
Iraqi politicians say among the current front-runners for the prime minister's post, Maliki seems to have the most options, if not the most support. But the coming talks are also likely to include entirely new formulations, possibly with all the well-known names stepping aside for a compromise candidate, which is how Maliki himself emerged in 2005.
The question on many anxious Iraqis' minds is how long will the process take, and how many more people will be killed or wounded in post-election violence before Iraq's latest power struggle is resolved.