Parliament as a whole may have to Choose Iraqi Prime Minister

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that despite their announced coalition, the religious Shiite State of Law and National Iraqi Alliance lists will probably have to resort to an up and down vote in parliament to choose the prime minister. The State of Law refuses to put forward any alternative to incumbent prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is unpopular with the Sadrists, who hold 38 of the National Iraqi Alliance’s 70 seats. Al-Maliki militarily attacked the Sadrist militia or Mahdi Army in spring of 2008 in Basra, and then in Sadr City.

Al-Hayat says that Iran has approved al-Maliki as a potential prime minister and has even put some pressure on Muqtada al-Sadr, the clerical leader of the Sadrists, who is residing in the Iranian seminary center of Qom, to back off his rejection of al-Maliki. Al-Maliki is widely credited with an improvement in day to day security in the Shiite south and the capital, despite occasional bomb strikes by Sunni Arab insurgents.

One of al-Hayat’s sources maintained that Iran had brokered the coalition in order to deny secular ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi, a known CIA asset, out of the prime ministership, and to stop any move to internationalize the process of forming an Iraqi government (as Allawi has called for). Internationalizing the deliberations would give the United States, which supports Allawi, a disproportionate influence on the outcome. But the same source suggested that this arrangement was artificial and fragile, given its Iranian provenance, and that the coalition could easily fall apart long before it got around actually to forming a government.

If Muqtada will not be swayed, and the coalition cannot decide internally on a single name, then they are likely to go to parliament for a vote, according to some sources. Were that step to be taken, al-Hayat’s interviewees believe that al-Maliki would lose out, since he is not popular among sitting members of the Iraqi legislature.

Yesterday it had been announced that the two-party coalition hoped that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani could appoint a committee of Shiite wise men to recommend a prime ministerial candidate from among four names, and could be persuasive with the Shiite coalition. But that hope appears already to be fading because of the intransigence of the Islamic Mission Party (Da’wa) MPs in the State of Law, who won’t back off al-Maliki under any circumstances.

It now emerges that the State of Law and the National Iraqi Alliance had agreed that if they could not come up with a single consensus candidate through their own deliberations, they would take the matter to a parliamentary vote.

Some sources the newspaper interviewed doubted, however, that al-Maliki would actually agree to go through with this arrangement in the end, because so many parliamentary blocs dislike him and would shoot his candidacy down.

But the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, led by cleric Ammar al-Hakim and a component of the National Iraqi Alliance, is said to strongly support a parliamentary vote, because it has excellent relations with all the other blocs.

The two wings of the new coalition are said to be continuing their negotiations in Iran even now. Hadi al-Ameri, leader of the Badr Corps is there. Badr is the paramilitary of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and it had been trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Amiri is likely an intermediary with Brig. Gen. Qasim Sulaimani, head of the Jerusalem Brigades special forces of the IRGC, who is generally the liaison to Shiite militant groups outside Iran. Also there is Shaikh Jalal al-Din al-Saghir, another stalwart of the fundamentalist Supreme Council, and Abd al-Halim al-Zuhairi of the Da’wa Party as well as the head of one of its splinter groups, the ‘Da’wa Party – Iraq Organization.’ They are negotiating with Muqtada al-Sadr and Iranian officials in order to maintain the unity of the coalition and to reach final terms on the coalition.

Ammar al-Hakim declined to characterize the coalition as a merger, given the distinct visions and organizations that make it up. He also said that, given their strong electoral showings, the Kurdistan Alliance (44 seats) and the Iraqiya list (91 seats) had to be part of the government (i.e. be given cabinet seats in return for voting with the government).

Dhafer al-Ani of the Iraqiya list (secular nationalists), however, insisted that the government-formation process be internationalized. He said his bloc was galvanized in that direction by the merger of the two big Shiite religious lists and the meddling of Iran. He also maintained that the Iraqiya had the right to form the government, since it had the single largest bloc of deputies (91). But the Iraqi appeals court has has already ruled that post-election coalitions can be formed and that their total number of seats would be taken into account. The Iraqi constitution says that the group with the largest number of seats has first crack at forming a government. But now the new Shiite coalition has 159 seats, far more than Allawi’s 91. Since there is already a court ruling on the issue, it seems likely that the Iraqiya will just have to get over what has happened.

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