Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi began reaching out to other political blocs for allies he needs to form Iraq’s next government, while accusing his main rival, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, of manoeuvring to undercut his victory in the March 7 parliamentary elections.
Allawi, whose Iraqiya list bested Maliki’s State of Law coalition by two seats, 91 to 89, in results announced on Friday, faces the greater challenge in putting together a majority. A secular Shiite who won by attracting Sunni Arab and secular voters, Allawi will have to woo other Shiite politicians — some of whom view Maliki as a more palatable, albeit imperfect, option — as well as Kurds.
He will also almost certainly have to make overtures to predominantly Shiite Iran, which has more influence over Iraqi politics than the US.
Allawi appealed for national unity on Saturday, saying in a news conference at his party’s headquarters, “The time has come to start building the country and laying the grounds for stability and economic development.”
Maliki is making the same appeal, even as he refuses to recognise the electoral results and calls for a recount. Iraqiya officials expressed concern Saturday that Maliki will use his position as head of a caretaker government during the appeals process and months of political jockeying to try to reduce the number of seats won by Allawi’s bloc.
Dozens of candidates were purged before the elections for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath Party, with Allawi’s bloc losing the most people. A second round of 55 disqualifications, announced on the eve of the vote, could potentially erode Iraqiya’s slim victory if the candidates lose their appeals.
In an interview on Saturday, Allawi also alleged that members of his group had been detained.
“I think (Maliki will) use every means at his disposal, as he made pretty clear he would,” said Gary Grappo, chief of the US Embassy’s political section. “But he also made clear in his (post-election) statement that he would work within the constitution and within the rule of law. We will take him at his word.”
Maliki seems to have already begun using the legal system to block Allawi’s rise to power. On Thursday, Iraq’s supreme court interpreted an ambiguous clause in the constitution as saying the largest bloc in parliament, with the right to form the next government, could be two or more groups that merged after the election. The opinion could allow Maliki’s State of Law and a rival Shiite bloc to claim the right to form a government first.
Allawi disputed the court’s interpretation during the TV interview on Saturday.
The Obama administration said throughout the electoral process that it had no preference among the candidates and was concerned only that disputes be resolved nonviolently, within Iraq’s legal structure. “It will be important for all sides to refrain from inflammatory rhetoric and intimidation,” the State Department said Friday.
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