Iraqi gov't mired in dispute

Ahram Online, Monday 6 Dec 2010

With three weeks left to formalise a government, Maliki retains an unbending stance in regard to Allawi while media leaks reveal an upcoming deal between Maliki's coalition and the Kurdish bloc

Iraqi leaders
(AFP)Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki (L) listens to President Jalal Talabani (R) as they attend a meeting in Erbil following a power-sharing deal in which Maliki remains premier, November 2010 (AFP).

Negotiations over the formation of the new Iraqi government are unlikely to be finalised by the end of this week.

At present, there is very little disagreement between the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, the leader of State of Law Coalition bloc, and Ayad Allawi, the leader of the Al-Iraqiya Coalition bloc, over the so-called five "sovereign" ministries – foreign affairs, finance, oil, defence and interior and the security agencies.

But during the weekend, media leaks revealed that a deal is in the pipeline between Maliki and the Kurdish leadership to allow the Kurds to keep the foreign ministry post and give the oil and defence ministries to Maliki’s bloc, leaving the interior and finance ministries to Allawi’s coalition.

The prime minister and the Kurdish leaders have both agreed that the foreign and defence posts should not be placed in Allawi’s hands as they would give him undue leverage in the international community and put Iraq in direct confrontation with Iran over regional and security issues.

Experts also suggest that Iraq is currently suffering from economic and security problems, making any decision to give the finance and interior ministries to Al-Iraqiya bloc a potential stumbling point for Allawi. The latter scenario would likely place the burden of public outrage on Allawi and undermine the popularity his bloc thus far enjoys.

Speaking to Ahram Online, Zafer Al-Anni, a senior official in Al- Iraqyia’s bloc, said that Iraqi leaders should reach a deal over the sovereign portfolios soon, considering Allawi is still waiting for a decision which would define the scope and powers of the new National Council for Strategic Policies.

The defence post will be the main point of contention between Allawi and Maliki in the coming weeks, but many leaders within Al-Iraqiya suggest the post could be given to an independent public figure know for “his integrity, experience and skills” .

A few weeks ago, Iraq's Shia, Kurdish and Sunni political leaders reached a power-sharing deal that gave Maliki, the leader of the State of Law Coalition, the prime ministership for a second term.

Under the new pact, Allawi will chair a new body called the National Council for Strategic Policies, which must be established through special legislation. The deal has given Talabani, a Kurdish leader, another term as president and a Sunni MP, Osama Al-Nujaifi, from Allawi's bloc, the parliamentary speaker position.

According to the Iraqi constitution, Maliki has thirty days to form a government, after which the president is required to invite another candidate.

“We will be able to form a government before the constitutional deadline”, Maliki said in a joint press conference with the German foreign minister on Saturday.

On Saturday, however, the negotiations reached a deadlock as the Kurdish bloc insisted on chairing the finance and education committees while Al-Iraqiya firmly pushed to head the oil and gas committee in addition to the defence committee.

Moreover, the parliament has yet to vote on legislation outlining the authority of Allawi’s new council before Maliki presents his cabinet for approval next month, Allawi said.

Maliki and other Shia and Kurdish alliances, close to Iran, have made their position clear, insisting that the council should not have the power to veto government decisions, functioning instead in an advisory capacity.

“We do not want a government with two heads; it would be catastrophic if we have two officials each one of them with the same power of a prime minister,” said Foud Al-Massom, a Kurdish parliamentary member, in press statement.  

Allawi’s group, conversely, insist that power sharing should include the council having executive authority on matters of defence, economy and national reconciliation.

"If they don't come up with a proper agreement on the council, most of Iraqiya and I will not participate in this fake government," Allawi said in a press interview. "If I was Maliki, after we made this concession [of prime minister], I would really welcome him reciprocating and trying to open a new chapter – a positive one."

But Maliki has adopted a strong stance when responding to Allawi’s withdrawal threats, asserting that the Al-Iraqiya leader’s withdrawal from the government would not stop his efforts to form the government

"If someone from Iraqiya does not want to join, this person will not stop the process of forming the government," Maliki said recently. "The participation of all Iraqiya is welcome."

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