BAGHDAD — Top politicians are stepping up efforts to break a political deadlock and form a new Iraq government more than four months after national elections gave a narrow victory to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s main challenger.
Mr. Maliki met late Tuesday night in Baghdad with former premier Ayad Allawi, who leads the Sunni-backed Iraqiya coalition that beat Maliki’s Shiite bloc by two seats in Iraq’s 325-seat parliament. Giving little away, delegate Mohammed Allawi said the talks were “positive” and aimed to form a government “in the next few days,” though no top positions were discussed.
That came one day after an unusual meeting in Damascus, Syria, between Allawi and the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who rarely leaves Iran where he is undergoing religious training. His Shiite followers won 39 seats – making him kingmaker.
The reclusive junior cleric praised Allawi’s party as “ready to compromise” to form a government. When asked about his readiness to work with Allawi, whom he had called a tool of the Americans when he was prime minister – Allawi had nearly had the cleric killed in 2004 – Sadr said he could “forget all previous differences for Iraq, so that the political process can move forward.”
But Sadr upheld his opposition to Maliki – who in the past deployed Iraqi security forces against Sadr’s militia followers – becoming premier again.
“I haven’t even met [Maliki] – how can I ally with him?” Sadr said.
Progress, but not a breakthrough
The political meetings sought to breathe new life into a process that has angered Iraqis. They are fed-up and frustrated with politicians who appear, with all their bickering, more worried about their posts and perks than with forging a government that can solve Iraq’s multitude of problems.
“I see movement, but I don’t see a breakthrough,” says Toby Dodge, an Iraq specialist at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.
“If one imagines that Sadr had reconciled himself to Allawi being the lesser of two evils, you’ve still got a long way to [go],” says Mr. Dodge. “It’s still much more likely that Allawi will take second fiddle to Maliki. … The Sadrists have a veto, and maybe in talking about Allawi so positively, Sadr is setting some form of [high] price for what’s to come.”
Such a deal might include Allawi gaining several key security ministries, and serving perhaps as deputy prime minister for security, while Maliki – or someone else from his State of Law bloc, if necessary – takes the top spot.
“Muqtada [al-Sadr] is clear that we do not endorse Mr. Maliki to head the government a second time,” says Bahaa al-Araji, a prominent Sadrist politician and reelected MP who chaired the last parliament’s legal committee.