A few weeks ago, the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Maliki, found himself in an awkward situation despite the fact that his State of Law Coalition came in second in the recent parliamentary elections. Maliki's Coalition fell short of catching up with Allawi's Iraqiyya by two seats only; everyone, including Maliki, considered such a result a loss. Maliki's already difficult political situation is further aggravated by the image he has developed as someone who refused to give up power peacefully and declined from conceding the election results.
Such an attitude brought Maliki a lot of criticism even from his traditional allies; it seemed that Maliki has entered the tunnel of political meltdown and that he will be paying dearly for the way he treated his allies and rivals alike during his term of office. His relationship with the Higher Islamic Council and the Kurdistan Alliance reached a stage of lack of mutual trust while he also managed to clearly win the animosity of the Sadri Movement.
This attitude gave a strong impression that it is now time for former prime minister, Iyyad Allawi, to re-gain power. Such a proposition is feasible given the fact that the Allawi-led Iraqiyya List ranked first in the election results with other lists showing some flexibility in dealing with the winning list – leaving the door ajar for the possibility to build a mega parliamentary bloc that can form a government without Maliki and Da'wah Party. There is an increasingly strong public feeling that Allawi's chances at becoming the next Prime Minister of Iraq are greater than those of his rivals.
This was the Iraqi political scene a few weeks ago, however. Today, things have changed and roles were swapped when a new coalition was officially revealed. Maliki's State of Law Coalition and the National Coalition that includes the Higher Islamic Council, Sadri Movement and other Shiite powers joined forces in that new coalition. Thus, the largest parliamentary bloc is now in place, and it is supposed to be forming the next government under the Iraqi constitution. Despite the fact that this bloc does not have enough seats to form the majority, it is very much qualified to be in a very powerful position during the negotiations. It will certainly be able to strike deals or forge agreements with other blocs in parliament, especially the Kurdistan Alliance – ensuring, thus, the majority required to form the new government.
How did this happen? How is it that the two have swapped positions? How, at least, did Allawi and Iraqiyya find themselves in this difficult situation? It might be said that Allawi and his List are to be blamed for cornering themselves for the following reasons:
First and ever since the election results were released, the Iraqiyya List has acted as if it had achieved a landslide victory that would enable it to dictate its terms and conditions as it pleased. Its representatives started to address others with a tone of unjustified superiority; they simply forgot that it was a two-seat difference that separated them from the State of Law. The fact that the Iraqiyya List insisted on its right to form the government can be regarded as a kind of political arrogance apart from an intentional disregard of a constitutional provision and the interpretation the Constitutional Court offered thereof.
Leaders of the Iraqiyya List talked as if they have already formed the government and that they welcome others to join as long as they would adhere to the set terms. Such a pretentious tone must have aroused a sense of concern among the other powers and blocs. Such concerns gradually transformed into fears followed by angry reactions to the way Iraqiyya bossed around the other political players.
Second, the political entities that form the Iraqiyya List demonstrated a hardliner attitude toward key issues that make up the basic ground for negotiations with others. Although Allawi had himself proved to be flexible when dealing with key matters like federalism, Kirkuk and the Office of the President, such flexibility was only true of Allawi himself; his other partners like Osama al-Nujaifi, Saleh al-Mutlag and Tareq al-Hashimi, to a certain extent, expressed predominantly non-negotiable hard-line attitudes – arousing the frustration and apathy of other political powers, particularly the Higher Islamic Council and Kurdistan Alliance who have previously expressed their readiness to engage the Iraqiyya List in serious talks to form a government.
However, it is not feasible that these powers form an alliance with the Iraqiyya List while there is no common ground – the dismay both sides share as a result of Maliki's performance does not suffice as a reason on its own to form an alliance. Hence, Allawi has paid the price for the election alliances he made; one still has to admit, though, that such alliances among many other reasons enabled Iraqiyya to achieve its relative victory during the recent parliamentary elections. Ironically, these alliances that brought the relative victory were themselves the obstacles that hindered the possibility of forming post-election coalitions in order to from a government.
The regional and international role can qualify as the third reason in this respect. Allawi contradicted himself when he criticized others for contacting and dealing with the regional and international powers as well as accepting their intervention in internal affairs like forming governments. However, Allawi himself hastened to the neighboring as well as non-neighboring countries; he sought to internationalize the formation of the Iraqi government in a way that perhaps was more overt than that used by the others whom he criticizes. Such behavioral contradiction was instrumental in the formation of a domestic counter-front that is affiliated with the policy of regional powers and axis.
Thus, one can see that the policy Allawi and Iraqiyya followed in dealing with the election results and formation of the government has not been successful at all. Such a policy culminated in a wider gap that separates Iraqiyya and the other powers as well as lack of trust. The other powers were prompted to consider alternative scenarios to achieve their own best interests. The only available and serious alternative who is ready for negotiations is indeed Maliki – this is exactly what happened as a coalition involving the State of Law and the National Coalition was formed, and it is expected that the newly formed coalition will attract others later on.
Although this new coalition is not solid enough due to the differences on who should be prime minister, it is expected that a settlement will be reached among the members of the coalition. Allawi's position would then become even more difficult since he is now required to form a larger alliance to ensure the ability to form the government. This remains highly unlikely and would require greater concessions or compromise than before on the part of the Iraqiyya List. Allawi's last remaining hope is that Maliki commits the same mistakes again which would then undermine the newly formed coalition. Yet I think that Maliki will not let go of this golden opportunity, for he is ready to pay the price it takes to remain in office as prime minister – even if it means assuming the office of the PM in rotation with a partner.