Wheeling and dealing begins in Baghdad

Scott Sadler Contributor
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The results from the March 7 elections were announced in Baghdad Friday night and what an upset it was.  Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi narrowly beat out current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki taking 91 seats in the Iraqi Parliament.  Maliki’s party won 89 seats.  That’s close and a severe setback for Maliki.  However, the outcome doesn’t necessarily guarantee Allawi his old job back, only allowing him to be the first to try to form a government.  Maliki did win 26 seats in the key Baghdad province, two more than Allawi.

Maliki has made it clear he intends to fight the results calling them “unacceptable and unreasonable.  For sure, we will not accept these results.”  According to The Times, “before the vote was even announced, several hundred supporters of Mr. Maliki and his State of Law coalition gathered with a heavy military presence in central Baghdad to demand a recount.”  The Independent High Electoral Commission in Iraq has rejected demands for a recount.   Saad Al-Rawi, a commissioner with the electoral body, said “we made our decision a few days ago and nothing is going to change it.” This raises serious concerns for possible violence and Reuters news agency predicts “long, divisive talks to form a new government.”  According to the BBC, “Mr. Allawi will now need to form a coalition government as he lacks a majority, amid fears the results may spark violence.” Another troubling sign is that the Sadrists’ strong showing in the election could vault them to a  “potential kingmaker role” in the new parliament, according to The Washington Post.

For their part, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and the top U.S. commander, Gen. Ray Odierno, released a joint statement on Friday night in support of “the findings of international and independent Iraqi observers, who have found that there is no evidence of widespread or serious fraud.”  U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called the final results a “significant milestone in the ongoing democratic development of Iraq.”

Now, the deal-making begins amid a climate of uncertainty. Many questions abound. What is the Prime Minister’s next move? Will there be a spike in violence?  What is Allawi thinking?  This next week will be critical for Iraq. It will lead to firm answers to these and other questions as to the direction Iraq will take.

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.