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    Middle East
     May 20, 2010
Allawi ahead, but falls behind
By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS - Although ex-prime minister Iyad Allawi has won a court decision and partial recount in the wake of Iraq's March parliamentary elections, there is still no guarantee he will become the next premier.

On Monday, the appeals court reinstated nine winning candidates who were disqualified due to alleged ties to the banned Ba'athist party. Since at least seven belong to Allawi's Iraqiya bloc, the party will keep its 91 members in parliament, which makes it the biggest party.

A day earlier, Iraq's electoral commission announced that a partial recount of 2.5 million votes cast in Baghdad had confirmed


Allawi's victory in the March polls.

Incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his supporters, unhappy with the 89 seats Maliki's State of Law Coalition won, claimed fraud and ordered the recount. Maliki also apparently encouraged the government agency that had masterminded the Ba'athist disqualification saga.

The appeals court decision, while a clear victory for Allawi, is also seen as significant for the judiciary's impartiality and independence from the central government. Meanwhile, the recount is viewed as a boost for the electoral body. Maliki claimed his State of Law Coalition must have won a majority in the capital, but the results were almost exactly the same as after the initial count.

With the decisions going Allawi's way, Maliki's long list of detractors, which includes seasoned statesmen from the Sunni community and countries like Saudi Arabia and Syria, will be pleased.

Even within his own Shi'ite community, Maliki's rise was not seen by all as a blessing. Popular Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr fell out with the prime minister when he ventured dangerously close to the George W Bush administration.

However, Maliki has not given up. He has strengthened his position by making an alliance with the Shi'ite religious party coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA). Together, the INA and Maliki's party are just four seats short of the 163 seats needed to form an overall majority, which would allow them to form a government.

Under Iraq's election law, the largest coalition in parliament takes the lead in proposing the new administration. As of now, that largest coalition belongs not to election-winner Allawi but to the second-place challenger and incumbent Maliki.

Despite its bickering in the past with Maliki, the INA never lost track of the common ground the two shared. The INA's religious roots - Muqtada is a key member - mean that neither it nor Maliki have much in common with Allawi, a secular former Ba'athist who would dread seeing a religiously driven government take power.

Both the INA and Maliki's team are Shi'ites, and both have a desire to create a mini-theocracy in Baghdad modeled after the government in Tehran. Both have scores to settle with the Sunni community for having produced Saddam Hussein, whom they fought for decades until his downfall in 2003. The new coalition is closely affiliated with Iran, which bankrolled their activities and offered them sanctuary during Saddam's three decades of power. United States ambassador Christopher Hill called the alliance a "Shi'ite mega party".

Due to this evolving balance of power, there is a good chance that Allawi will not become prime minister. Though Allawi commands the most seats in parliament, he will not be able to form a government unless political heavyweights give him their approval.

If influential politicians decide to side with the opposition, the bloc could make life hell for Allawi, staging riots and demonstrations around the clock to bring him down. Even worse, they could use their militias to create havoc on the streets of major cities.

The Sunnis will not veto Allawi, nor will the seculars, but conservative Shi'ites whose fortunes are linked to those of Maliki will refuse to take part in a cabinet headed by Allawi. Iran will also not accept an Allawi-led government, since he has never missed a chance to remind the world that he will work at curbing Iranian influence in Iraq.

A colorful array of Iraqi politicians - all Shi'ites close to Maliki - were hosted by Tehran in the immediate aftermath of the March elections. Allawi was not invited and made his stance clear by instead visiting Damascus and Riyadh.

As a saying in Iraq goes, "Not everyone who goes to the Vatican gets to meet the pope." In today's world, it seems, not everyone who wins a majority of seats in parliament gets to become prime minister.

In Baghdad it is not only about the will of the people. There are layers of interests that overlap and contradict and which can make or break an incoming premier. More so than what the people want, much depends on what the Iranians, the Saudis, the Syrians and the Americans want for the country.

Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Muqtada unleashes new, improved army
(Apr 29, '10)

Deepening rift tears at Iraqi hearts
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