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Iraq: The Hurdles To Forming A Government --> (epa) For months, the formation of a government in Iraq has foundered on the issue of who should be prime minister. The country now has a designated prime minister who appears to enjoy the preliminary backing of the key parties. Nuri al-Maliki (who is also known as Jawad al-Maliki) now hopes to be able to put a government together swiftly. How close is an agreement? And what key issues remain in the negotiating process?  RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq (RFI) correspondent Layla Ahmad asked Husayn al-Shahristani, a former deputy speaker of parliament, about the positions of the various parties expected to form a government.

Chief among those parties is the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance, of which al-Shahristani is a leading member. It has 128 seats, compared with 53 for the Kurdistan Coalition, 44 for the Iraqi Accordance Front, and 25 for the Iraqi National List.

Al-Shahrastani: Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki has announced that he wants to have the cabinet ready by May 9. We have come a long way, in fact. Most of the ministerial posts, including the power [ministries], have been divided among the [political] blocs. But attitudes still differ on some ministries, either between the [Kurdistan] Coalition and the [Iraqi] Accordance [Front], or between the [Iraqi] Accordance [Front] and the Iraqi [National List] -- [in the latter case, the parties differ] on the post of deputy prime minister.

RFI: Whom do you support in this?

We believe the cabinet will be one of strongest Iraqi cabinets possible and one of those most able to solve the crises in Iraq, God willing.

Al-Shahrastani: We support the one who has right on their side. We believe that the points system is a fair system, and, based on the points system, it is right that the Iraqi [National List] should get the post of deputy prime minister or, if they reject that post, to get a top leadership position [as deputy prime minister]. In fact, all the blocs, from the [United Iraqi Alliance] to the others, have nominated their strongest leaders to the cabinet. We therefore believe the cabinet will be one of strongest Iraqi cabinets possible and one of those most able to solve the crises in Iraq, God willing.

The interior of the Iraqi parliament (epa)

RFI: The leadership of the Kurdistan Coalition recently gathered in Kurdistan to discuss the points system, the key that will determine how ministries are allocated and a source of disagreement between the Kurdistan Coalition and the United Iraqi Alliance.

Al-Shahrastani: The position of the [United Iraqi] Alliance is: The number of points assigned to each leadership post and ministerial post must be allotted in line with the number of seats that the respective bloc has [in the parliament, the Council of Representatives]. For each post gained, the respective number of points will be subtracted from the total of points that each bloc has.

This is the position of the [United Iraqi] Alliance. We have been supported in this position by the Iraqi National List and the [Iraqi Front for National] Dialogue [a party with 11 seats]. But our friends in the [Kurdistan] Coalition think that the nine top leadership posts -- that means, the posts of president and his two vice-presidents, the speaker of the Council of Representatives and his two deputies, and the prime minister and his two deputies – should not be included in the points system. They want to have a post in each trio of posts, and to apply the points system only to the ministries as such. This is an issue on which we have not yet reached agreement with the [Kurdistan] Coalition.

RFI: Do you think this will be an obstacle to the formation of a government?

Al-Shahrastani: I would not call it an "obstacle" in any real sense. Indeed, we still have time for negotiations in which to reach positions that all can unite around.

RFI: It has been announced that Iraqi National List leader Iyad Allawi will run for the post of the secretary-general of the National Security Council. The United Iraqi Alliance has not objected to his nomination, adding, though, that any agreement would depend on a discussion with the remaining parties.

Al-Shahrastani: We have not yet entered dialogue on this issue with the other blocs. But the Iraqi National List has clearly shown its desire to revisit the question of how many members should be in the political section of the National Security Council. The blocs [that will form the government] have agreed that the number would be 19: nine members from the [United Iraqi] Alliance and the rest divided among the other blocs, based on their representation in the Council of Representatives. The Iraqi National List now wishes to reduce that number to nine.

RFI: Will you, then, object to Iyad Allawi if he does not occupy the post of secretary-general of the National Security Council but runs instead for a ministerial position?

Al-Shahrastani: We have not objected to Iyad Allawi, even as regards ministerial posts. But I cannot say whether the [United Iraqi] Alliance will approve something before it is discussed.

(translated by Petr Kubalek)

RFE/RL Iraq Report

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