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
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
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
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
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
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.