Iraqi par­lia­ment OKs new govern­ment

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitic­s - BY BEN­JAMIN BIRN­BAUM

The Iraqi par­lia­ment on Dec. 21 unan­i­mously ap­proved a new govern­ment headed by Shi­ite Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki, who ap­par­ently has ap­peased the Sunni-backed bloc that bested his own party in the coun­try’s March elec­tions.

The bloc pre­vi­ously had been granted the speak­er­ship of the par­lia­ment, and Mr. al-Ma­liki’s Cabi­net be­stowed on it the top posts in the min­istries of fi­nance, agri­cul­ture, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, in­dus­try, ed­u­ca­tion, sci­ence and technology, among oth­ers.

Lead­ing Iraqiya fig­ure Saleh al-Mut­laq also was named a deputy prime min­ster.

Mr. Mut­laq was one of three Sun­nis who was al­lowed to reen­ter the po­lit­i­cal process af­ter the Coun­cil of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives voted Dec. 18 to ex­empt them from the ban on for­mer as­so­ci­ates of Sad­dam Hus­sein’s Baath Party.

But it was the par­tic­i­pa­tion of for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Ayad Allawi, who led Iraqiya to vic­tory in the March elec­tions, that proved most promis­ing for those who had seen the bloc’s par­tic­i­pa­tion as key to pre­vent­ing the marginal­iza­tion of the coun­try’s Sunni mi­nor­ity and a po­ten­tial re­turn to the sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence that par­a­lyzed the coun­try for much of 2006 and 2007.

“We are an­nounc­ing our full sup­port for the govern­ment,” Mr. Allawi said on Dec. 21.

Mr. Allawi is ex­pected to serve as head of a still ill-de­fined Na­tional Coun­cil for Strate­gic Poli­cies. His grudg­ing ac­cep­tance of the po­si­tion marks a turn­around from last month, when he led a walk­out of Iraqiya par­lia­ment mem­bers.

Mr. Allawi, a sec­u­lar Shi­ite, be­came the de facto can­di­date of choice for the Sunni mi­nor­ity in the March 7 elec­tions af­ter team­ing up with lead­ing Sunni politi­cians like Mr. al-Mut­laq and Vice Pres­i­dent Tariq alHashimi.

The bloc, which won the lion’s share of Sunni votes as well as some sup­port from sec­u­lar Shi- ites, fin­ished first in the elec­tions, with 91 par­lia­men­tary seats.

The Shi­ite vote was largely split be­tween Mr. al-Ma­liki’s State of Law coali­tion, which won 89 seats, and the Ira­ni­an­backed Iraqi Na­tional Al­liance, which won 70 — in­clud­ing 39 for fol­low­ers of rad­i­cal cleric Muq­tada al-Sadr. The main Kur­dish al­liance won 43.

The frag­mented out­come yielded months of strug­gle be­tween Mr. Allawi and Mr. alMa­liki, both claim­ing the right to the premier­ship.

Rei­dar Visser, se­nior re­search fel­low at the Nor­weigian In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs and author of “A Re­spon­si­ble End? The U.S. and the Iraqi Tran­si­tion,” said that de­spite the bloc’s fail­ing to se­cure the premier­ship or the pres­i­dency, the of­fer of plum jobs had proved ir­re­sistible for sev­eral Iraqiya lead­ers.

“Iraqiya has climbed down a good deal from their orig­i­nal bar­gain­ing po­si­tion,” he said, “but at the same time they have achieved some­thing be­cause they now form the biggest fac­tion in­side the Cabi­net along­side that of Ma­liki’s own State of Law.”

Mr. Visser said that Mr. alMa­liki now faces the chal­lenge of bal­anc­ing the po­lit­i­cal de­mands of the Sun­nis and Kurds, which con­flict in many key ar­eas, such as the fu­ture sta­tus of the eth­ni­cally mixed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki waits to sub­mit his new gov­ern­ment for ap­proval to the Iraqi par­lia­ment in Bagh­dad on Dec. 21. Iraqi law­mak­ers unan­i­mously ap­proved the new gov­ern­ment.

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