Al-Hayat writing in Arabic reports that the Shiite fundamentalist coalition, the National Iraqi Alliance, has conducted a vote and selected Adel Abdul Mahdi as the list’s candidate for the post of prime minister. Abdul Mahdi is the outgoing vice president of Iraq and is from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI).
Four major parties won substantial numbers of seats in the Iraqi parliament on March 7. They include the Iraqiya Party (91 seats), the State of Law coalition of Shiites (89 seats), the Shiite fundamentalist National Iraqi Alliance (NAI, 70 seats), and the Kurdistan Alliance (44 seats). In a parliament of 325, a governing coalition would require 163 seats.
If, as the United States wants, the State of Law Shiites joined with the Iraqiya secularists and Sunnis, the resulting coalition would have 180. But so far the two have not been able to find an acceptable power-sharing arrangement. Caretaker prime minister Nuri al-Maliki of the State of Law is determined to hold on to his office, and the Iraqiya insist they should have the prerogative of forming the government because they are the single largest party.
The Iraqi supreme court, however, has ruled that ruling coalitions may be formed after the election, and the State of Law has attempted to make a coalition with the Shiite fundamentalists of the National Iraqi Alliance. If they could join together, they would have 159 seats, only 4 short of the necessary majority, and they surely could attract some of the smaller parties to join them, along with the Kurds, giving such a Shiite-Shiite alliance a solid chance to form the government.
Negotiations between State of Law and the National Iraqi Alliance have been taking place fitfully all this summer, but have foundered on two basic disputes. First, the Sadr Movement of Muqtada al-Sadr absolutely rejects Nuri al-Maliki, the head of the State of Law list, as prime minister for a second term. Al-Maliki used the Iraqi army to attack the Mahdi Army or paramilitary of the Sadrists in 2008, and Muqtada will not forgive him despite severe pressure from Iran to embrace al-Maliki and form a Shiite-majority government.
The second problem was that the Shiites had been unable to put anyone forward as a candidate in al-Maliki’s place.
This second problem has now been resolved, with the election of Abdul Mahdi.
Aljazeera Arabic is reporting that Iran vetted Abdul Mahdi and is satisfied with him. The Sadrists, it says, only agreed to accept him if he would agree not to extend the Status of Forces Agreement with the United States. (The SOFA calls for all US troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011, but I take it the Sadrists are afraid some units will be asked to remain by the prime minister, and Abdul Mahdi had to promise not to do that).
Unfortunately, the selection of Abdul Mahdi by the NAI does not resolve Iraq’s political gridlock. Since the Shiite fundamentalists have only 70 seats, they need a bigger partner in order to form a government. But a bigger partner is unlikely to accept their candidate for prime minister. The Iraqiya is standing behind Iyad Allawi, and the State of Law has so far stood with Nuri al-Maliki.
The only way for Abdul Mahdi actually to become PM would be for the State of Law coalition, with the Islamic Mission Party (Da’wa) at its core, to vote for him and to dump al-Maliki. Such a development cannot be ruled out. But State of Law, with 89 seats, probably would want a Da’wa prime minister rather than to accept someone from the NAI coalition, which only has 70 seats (and ISCI from whence Abdul Mahdi hails has only a handful of seats).
File under ‘interesting development,’ but don’t get too excited yet that it presages the formation of an Iraqi government.
Meanwhile, ordinary Iraqis are anxious about the lack of a government, and about the lack of clean water, electricity, services, jobs and security under which they are laboring.
See Lara Marlowe’s retrospective on the American invasion and occupation of Iraq for the Irish Times. It is informed and nuanced, unlike the David Brooks cheerleading we saw last week. Unlike Brooks, Marlowe actually covered the war and knows whereof she speaks.
Thousands of Iraqis are still fleeing to Syria every week, and few of those already in Syria ever go home to Iraq.
The National quotes a woman who recently fled to Syria with here children from Iraq:
‘ “I waited until after the elections because I thought things would get better but they’re getting worse again,” said Umm Omar, 30, an English literature student and mother of two who arrived in Syria in July.
She has registered as a UN refugee, hoping, in what is effectively a lottery, to win resettlement in Europe. Determined not to abandon her home, Umm Omar had weathered the storm of violence in Baghdad when it peaked in 2006 but said the time had come to give up on Iraq entirely.
“It was a combination of things that made me finally decide,” she explained. “The security is worse than they say it is. There are no public services, no jobs. You can’t drink the water. There’s no electricity and the politicians are only interested in themselves. There is only so much you can tolerate.’
Only so much you can tolerate, indeed. No doubt Fox Cable News will complain that Umm Omar didn’t thank George W. Bush in her interview.