Sunni-backed bloc bending on Iraq post
BAGHDAD — The Sunni-backed political coalition that narrowly won the most votes in Iraq’s parliamentary election appeared yesterday to be giving up its demand for the premiership, boosting the Shi’ite prime minister’s drive to keep his job.
The stunning turnabout is sure to inflame Iraq’s minority Sunnis, whose crucial support helped the secular Iraqiya movement edge ahead of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s political coalition in the March 7 parliamentary election. US diplomats worry that if the Sunnis feel sidelined by backroom deal-making over the formation of a new government, it could spark unrest.
A key Iraqiya leader said yesterday that the party is no longer insisting on receiving the top job as long as it gets an equal share of power in Iraq’s government. It marks the strongest concession to date by Iraqiya, and could break the seven-month political impasse that has stymied Iraq from seating a new government.
“We have reached a position that we don’t care anymore about posts,’’ said Sheik Adnan al-Danbous, a Shi’ite who is close to the Iraqiya chief, Ayad Allawi. “Posts are not as important to us as having participation in decision-making.’’
Danbous said Iraqiya could live with Maliki keeping his job — so long as the party gets other plum positions, such as the presidency or Parliament speaker.
Marginalized in Iraq’s power circles after Saddam Hussein’s ouster and after boycotting the first round of elections in 2005, Sunnis joined with Iraqiya this year in hopes of regaining political strength. Sunnis make up the majority of Iraqiya, which is widely recognized as the largest and most influential nonreligious political alliance.
The party’s leader, former prime minister Allawi, is a Shi’ite.
The comments marked a surprising change of course for Iraqiya, which after the election appeared poised to lead Iraq away from hard-line religious politics and toward a more secular government.
Iraqiya won two more parliamentary seats than Maliki’s bloc in the March vote, but neither won enough seats to control Parliament outright, touching off a scramble to rally support from other political parties that has dragged on for more than seven months.
Maliki also got a boost earlier this month by forging an alliance with anti-American Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr that all but sealed the prime minister’s hold on his job.
That, too, prompted an outcry from Sunnis, some of whom predicted the end of democracy in Iraq if Maliki were to remain in power.
Separately yesterday, two small Sunni political groups joined forces in hopes of wielding some influence in the ongoing power struggle. Though their new Iraqi Centrist Alliance holds only a combined 10 seats in Parliament, its merger probably signals Sunni frustration with being left out of negotiations.
The new Sunni alliance will “include all political parties, and all social components will be represented without neglecting anyone,’’ lawmaker Salim Abdullah al-Jibouri said.
Danbous said the negotiating was far from over, especially since Maliki has all but promised Kurdish parties that they will keep the presidency.
It still could take until early 2011 before a government is formed, Danbous said.
All US military troops are set to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
Meanwhile, Iraqi authorities said they broke up a Baghdad cell of the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group for Sunni insurgents that is linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq, and charged at least two of its members with orchestrating a series of bombings on foreign embassies in the capital.