The March 7 national elections have left Iraq divided. Final results are expected today and the political jockeying is in full swing.
Given the fact none of the blocs are expected to take a majority of the seats in the new Parliament, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi are reaching out to other political parties in hopes of forming an alliance. If this occurs, one of the men will be shoved to the side, potentially causing disruption in the country. According to Reuters news agency, they will be “separated by only one or two seats” winning about 90 seats each.
There is word that Maliki’s State of Law Party and the Iraqi National Alliance are in negotiations. “There has been more than one meeting with INA to reach a deal to form an alliance or merge both coalitions,” Sami al-Askari, a prominent member of Maliki’s State of Law Party told Reuters. Reuters suggests “attempts to sideline Allawi could be seen as an attempt to relegate Sunnis to the political wilderness and set back Iraq’s fragile security gains.” What’s even more worrisome is that the Sadrist movement of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, was the top vote-getter for INA and has poor relations with Maliki. The Washington Post suggests that group “is positioned to take a pivotal role in the next parliament” and “have not abandoned their violent tactics.” Late Tuesday, the Associated Press confirmed that Maliki met with two Sadrists and “while it is too soon to say whether the meeting will lead to more solid cooperation between longtime enemies both sides would have something to gain from working together.”
Let’s not forget the Kurds, either. How do they come out in all of this? The Post predicts they “lose some of their influence” to the Sadrists. “The alliance is expected to hold about 42 seats in the new parliament. In the last parliament, which had 275 members, it had 50 seats and was boosted by eight legislators from other Kurdish parties,” the Post reports.
U.S. military officials are watching the proceedings closely. On Monday, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, and the American ambassador, Christopher Hill, met with Maliki after his heated remarks over the weekend regarding a recount. One senior official in the meeting told The New York Times “we’re not picking up vibes of a crisis” and a spokesman at the Pentagon also sees “no indication of any increased security concern. Bringing the Iraqi elections to a resolution is important to do.” On Wednesday, hundreds of supporters of Prime Minister al-Maliki protested in Basra backing his call for a recount of the votes and “ten powerful local politicians” added their support, according to AFP.
All of this comes as Iraq’s interior minister, Jawad Al-Bolani, in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, implores the United States not to “put Iraq in the rear-view mirror.” He suggests that “it may be easy for America, amid so many competing priorities and after so much sacrifice but our future is by no means certain. Our gains can yet be reversed by ourselves or by others.” While that may be true, the clock ticks and the withdrawal is on track. I have no doubt that the United States will remain a strong partner but it’s up to Iraq now. These elections were an important first step. The forming of a new government is the next big test. The question now is, Will the politicians rise to the occasion?
Scott Sadler is an experienced communicator with an in-depth expertise with crisis communications who has served in senior level positions in the federal government, Capitol Hill, and in a military theater of operation.