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Iraqis Find Forming New Government Elusive

Thursday, 01 April 2010 09:45 AM

BAGHDAD — Charges of Iranian meddling, constitutional conflicts and bad blood between bitter rivals: obstacles blocking the formation of a new government have piled up in the aftermath of Iraq's general election.

Little progress has been made in forming a government coalition in the more than three weeks since the March 7 poll, while negotiations between its main blocs have revealed key differences between the parties.

Hopes for rapid results have dimmed as ex-premier Iyad Allawi's slim lead -- his bloc won 91 parliamentary seats, two more than Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's -- has failed to give him a commanding negotiating position.

On Tuesday, Allawi complained that Tehran was "interfering" in the political process to try to block his path by holding talks with all of Iraq's major political groups except his secular Iraqiya bloc.

"Iran is interfering quite heavily and this is worrying," he told the BBC in an interview.

Asked whether the Islamic republic wanted to stop him becoming prime minister, he replied: "I think so. They made it very clear ... that they have a red line."

Senior figures from Maliki's State of Law Alliance and other major Iraqi blocs have visited the Iranian capital since the polls, but no official from Iraqiya is known to have travelled to Tehran.

But on Wednesday, Iran denied it was meddling in Iraqi politics although Tehran stood ready to help.

Efforts by Iraqi parties "to form the next government are an internal matter, and they will obviously do that according to their electoral plans and without taking into account foreign interests," its foreign ministry said.

"Iran does not interfere in this," its foreign ministry spokesman told state radio, while adding Tehran was ready to "host Iraqi political movements to help with the formation of the new government as soon as possible."

In Baghdad, both Allawi and Maliki are seeking to assemble coalitions with the 163 seats necessary to secure a majority in parliament and form a government.

They have each met with the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), a bloc led by Shiite religious groups, and Kurdistania, made up of the autonomous Kurdish region's two long-dominant blocs, which have 70 seats and 43 seats, respectively.

Those negotiations, while thus far largely unsuccessful, have illustrated crucial differences between Iraq's main political groupings, at least two of which must close ranks to form a government.

While State of Law and the INA share sectarian common ground -- both are Shiite-dominated parties -- any potential partnership is being held up by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's movement, which has emerged as the INA's most powerful faction.

Maliki ordered an assault on Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in Baghdad and Basra in 2008, and relations between him and the Sadrist bloc, which holds more than half of the INA's seats, remain poor.

The Sadrist movement has pledged to hold a referendum on Friday to gauge support levels among its supporters for would-be prime ministers, including Maliki and Allawi.

Bad blood also remains between the leaders of Iraq's two biggest blocs.

While Allawi and Maliki, as self-styled nationalists, agree on war-battered Iraq's need for a strong central government, they would both want the top job for themselves if they were to form an alliance.

Last Saturday, Allawi confirmed Iraqiya officials had had a "dialogue" with Maliki's bloc, but without any "real reconciliation."

Since then, Allawi's appointed coalition negotiator, a Sunni Arab deputy prime minister, Rafa al-Essawi, has held his own talks with Maliki, though no results have been made public.

Allawi has also said that a blacklist of candidates allegedly linked to former dictator Saddam Hussein's Baath party, including several from his Iraqiya list, had harmed relations with Maliki.

Also complicating efforts to build a coalition was a ruling by Iraq's supreme court last week that questions Iraqiya's right to have the first shot at forming a coalition as the party which emerged with the most seats.

The court referred to a clause in the constitution stating that the largest parliamentary bloc could be any new coalition formed after the poll.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Thursday, 01 April 2010 09:45 AM
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