Rival factions reach power-sharing deal in Iraq
More than eight months after Iraq’s inconclusive elections, rival political blocs reached a power-sharing agreement nailing the top three government posts, Kurdish regional president Masoud Barzani said Thursday.
AP - A top Kurdish leader welcomed on Thursday a tentative deal on a new government keeping Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in his post and breaking an 8-month deadlock. While Sunnis have a role, the deal still thwarts their ambitions for greater political power, raising concerns sectarian violence could persist.
The deal could be a setback for the United States, which was pushing for a strong Sunni role out of fear that the minority community could slide back into support of Iraq's insurgency if it wasn't given a real say in power.
Parliament was to meet later Thursday to take the first formal step in creating the new government _ electing a parliament speaker. A parliament vote to confirm a new government could take several weeks as the factions work out details of posts. Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, who confirmed the deal early Thursday, said he expected a new government to be in place within a month.
A Sunni-backed coalition led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi won the most seats in the inconclusive March 7 parliament elections, but not the majority needed to form a government. That opened the door for religious Shiite parties to form a coalition and outmaneuver Allawi, thwarting his bids for both the prime minister job and the presidency.
Instead, Allawi will lead a newly created security council, said Barzani.
But the council's powers remain vague: Al-Maliki is unlikely to give up the reins over security issues, and one of his key Shiite partners _ the staunchly anti-American Sadrist movement _ also appears to be angling for a hand as well.
``I don't think we got what we wanted. We are the biggest bloc, and we won the election,'' said a lawmaker from Allawi's Iraqiya party, Jaber al-Jaberi, of the Sunni stronghold Ramadi. ``We earned the right to form the government. However, there were powerful forces ... and we compromised.''
The Sunnis did get a few consolation prizes, and the United States praised the fact that the new government would have at least some Sunni presence.
``The apparent agreement to form an inclusive government is a big step forward for Iraq,'' said Tony Blinken, national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, the administration's point man for Iraq. ``All along we've said the best result would be a government that reflects the results of the elections, includes all the major blocs representing Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups, and that does not exclude or marginalize anyone.''
Lawmakers are expected to meet Thursday for a vote to name the speaker of parliament, a post that Barzani said was promised to Allawi's bloc in the deal. Parliament would then elect the president, who would ask the prime minister candidate _ al-Maliki _ to form a government.
It was not immediately clear if the vote on the president would take place Thursday. Barzani said he expected the new government to be formed within a month.
The Kurds, the bloc that came in fourth place in the election, will retain the presidency, the second highest position in Iraq's political structure.
The job has largely been a ceremonial post but in a country where personality often trumps position, President Jalal Talabani has pushed the position to have more weight.
Barzani praised the deal, calling it fair to all blocs. ``We cannot expect that any block gets everything,'' he said.
The drawn-out wrangling over the government left a political void that many feared was fueling new bloody attacks by Sunni insurgents and al-Qaida's branch in the country. Finally reaching a deal could help solidify stability.
But much depends on the reaction of Iraq's Sunni minority. They had put great hopes that participating in elections would bring them a greater say in decision-making after years of feeling sidelined by the staunchly sectarian Shiite parties that ran governments since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein.
The lack of significant roles for Allawi's Sunni-backed coalition casts doubt on whether members the Sunni population will support the new government. Even worse, Sunnis could become disillusioned with the political process _ especially since they won it by a fraction _ and turn to the insurgency.
In contrast, the deal reached late Wednesday reflects a significant victory for neighboring, Shiite-majority Iran, which had pushed for al-Maliki's return and for a continuation of Shiite rule in Iraq.
The new government could also give a significant role to the Sadrist movement, led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Al-Maliki, whose Shiite bloc was second behind Allawi's Iraqiya, aligned months ago with a large Shiite bloc led by the Sadrists. Together, the coalition brought them close to a majority in the 325-seat parliament and all but ensured that Iraq's government for the next four years would continue to be dominated by conservative Shiite parties close to Iran, much like the outgoing regime.
Sadrist lawmaker Hakim al-Zamili, said they have yet to discuss details as to what ministries the Sadrists would get. But he said security problems should be the first addressed, raising the prospect that Sadrists are seeking a significant role in the country's security framework.
``We think that the first decision the government should take is to change some ineffective military commanders and purge the security forces of corrupt members,'' he said.
The U.S. and the Sadrists do not have any contact, and the Sadrists consider the Americans to be an occupying power. Members of al-Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army, have attacked American troops, and were one of the main players behind much of the sectarian violence that ripped this country apart.
A direct role by the Sadrists in the security apparatus would likely severely curtail American support of Iraq's fledgling security forces.
The minority Sunnis dominated Iraq's government under Saddam. After his fall, Sunnis formed the backbone of a bloody insurgency against the Shiite-led government _ sparking years of vicious Shiite-Sunni sectarian killings that brought the country to the brink of civil war.
Barzani said Allawi will be in charge of a new council with authority over security. But there were no immediate details on the council's powers.
Iraqiya has tried to make sure the council position has real teeth, but over his first term al-Maliki has jealously guarded his security authorities and may be unlikely to cede any to a rival.
Iraqiya lawmakers said they also won a concession to get rid of a law helping purge members of Saddam Hussein's former regime from government posts in two years. The so-called De-Baathification law was reviled by Sunnis who felt it was a thinly veiled attempt to prevent their return to power and seal Shiite dominance in the country.
Hundreds of Iraqiya lawmakers were barred from the elections under the law.
Al-Jaberi described the council and the end of the De-Baathification law as significant concessions.
``They showed to us they want to open a new page,'' he said, but he left open the possibility that Iraqiya could always withdraw its support for the government. ``We can always change our minds. We have 91 seats in the parliament.''
The parliament speaker post is believed to be going to Osama al-Nujaifi, an Iraqiya leader from the northern city of Mosul. He's infuriated Kurdish leaders with his often confrontational stance that disputed areas in northern Iraq claimed by both the Kurds and Arabs, should remain under central control.