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Allawi backing away from Iraqi government deal

The Shiite leader says he won't head a strategic council intended to counterbalance the prime minister's power. His apparent wooing of the Sadr bloc casts doubt on the power-sharing agreement.

March 04, 2011|By Alice Fordham, Los Angeles Times
  • Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, left, and Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr address reporters after a meeting in the holy city of Najaf in southern Iraq.
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, left, and Shiite cleric Muqtada… (Khider Abbas / EPA )

Reporting from Baghdad — Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, whose Iraqiya party won the most seats in Iraq's elections last year, has refused to head a long-planned strategic council in parliament, saying Thursday that Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has broken promises about its role.

In an interview on Iraqi TV, Allawi alleged that he was being watched by intelligence services and said that he would not head the proposed National Council for Strategic Policies. The council, backed by the United States, was conceived as a counterweight to the power of the prime minister to end the months-long deadlock on forming a government.

A secular Shiite politician whose bloc won the backing of the majority of Iraq's Sunni Arabs, Allawi was persuaded to head the council within a government headed by his rival Maliki. The collapse of the deal threatens a fragile power-sharing agreement which is the basis of the government and which took nine months to reach after elections in March.

Allawi reportedly wanted the council to have decision-making power and was dissatisfied with what supporters called Maliki's stalling on promises of a partnership government.

Allawi and Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr held a news conference Thursday in Najaf, a city holy to Shiite Muslims. Sadr, a former militia leader whose supporters won 40 of the 325 seats in the elections, allied only reluctantly with Maliki when the government was finally formed in December.

"We are not seeking positions, but looking for the interests of the people, the progress of Iraq and its stability," said Allawi, whose bloc has 91 seats to Maliki's 89.

"There are broad and profound areas of common ground between us and the Sadr movement," Allawi said.

The show of unity between Allawi, a medical doctor who lived for many years in London, and the fiercely anti-Western cleric Sadr is an opportunistic reversal of political alliances, said Zaid Al-Ali, a lawyer and analyst who formerly worked with the U.N. on Iraqi politics.

"In 2005, when parliamentary elections were taking place, the Sadrists mounted a campaign against Allawi; they had a poster with his face split in half and the other half was Saddam's face," Al-Ali said. "For them to do a press conference is a huge change."

He said that both Sadr and Allawi had concerns that Maliki was amassing too much power. In recent months, a court ruling has placed institutions, including the central bank and the human rights committee, under the control of the executive branch of government, headed by Maliki.

Toby Dodge, an expert on Iraqi politics at Queen Mary's University in London, said Maliki probably would view the statements by Allawi and Sadr, his most potent opponents, as a move to unseat him.

"I think Maliki will see it as a threat," Dodge said, "partly because he is deeply paranoid and partly because it is."

In related news, protests against the government were planned for Friday. More than a dozen people were killed last week when thousands protesting poor services and the lack of jobs marched through the streets of the major cities.

Fordham is a special correspondent.

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