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Analysis: Iraq's Political Groups Start Jockeying For Power

Iraqi groups are looking for ways to make good on their campaign promises (file photo) Although the final vote count on Iraq's transitional National Assembly is still days away from being announced, Iraqi political parties and groups have already begun jockeying for power in the new government. Shi'ite, Kurdish, and Sunni groups have issued a number of statements since the 30 January election that give some insight into how they intend to proceed in the coming months.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi on 31 January announced his intention to forge a national dialogue that would include Sunni opposition groups who boycotted national elections. To this end, media reports indicate that he has begun a series of meetings with Sunnis who did participate, including veteran Iraqi diplomat Adnan Pachachi, Constitutional Monarchy Movement head Sharif Ali bin al-Husayn, and Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir.

"We hope after [the Independent Electoral Commission announces] the names, the winning lists, percentages, to hold contacts among the various political forces in Iraq and the lists that were elected," Allawi told Al-Arabiyah on 31 January. "There are preliminary contacts that have started among some political parties in Iraq and we hope that these contacts will be intensified within the next two weeks." Asked who he considered his allies to be, Allawi said: "Without getting into details, my allies are those who believe in Iraq's territorial integrity and unity; freedom; the rule of law; Iraqi's dignity; a unified federal democratic Iraq; Iraqi's values, heritage, civilization; and the unity of the Iraqi society. These are my allies in the past, present, and future."

SCIRI Thoughts

One group that may not be one of Allawi's allies is the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). The organization's leader, Ammar al-Hakim, told London's "Al-Hayat" this week that there is "no room for talk about power sharing" with Allawi "because [SCIRI's] information and expectations indicate a sweeping victory with a large majority [voting] for the United Iraqi Alliance list." Al-Hakim then tempered his position, saying that "our political program calls for building bridges with all parties and forces and opposes monopolization of power." He added that the Shi'ite alliances plan for the next political stage calls for the participation of all parties, including those that boycotted the elections.

Other members of the Shi'ite list reportedly held meetings with Kurdish leaders even before the election to solidify their positions. Faysal al-Lami of the Shi'ite Political Council led by Iraqi National Congress head Ahmad Chalabi told "Al-Hayat" that the council's contacts with the Kurds remain ongoing and aim at reviving "the Shi'ite-Kurdish alliance on new bases," the daily reported on 2 February. Al-Lami added that the Al-Sadr II Movement led by anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr will be part of the alliance. Al-Sadr representative Sheikh Ali Sumaysim reportedly has plans to meet with Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) head Mas'ud Barzani, according to al-Lami, to discuss the two sides' versions of the new government, "Al-Hayat" reported.

Meanwhile, Ahmad al-Safi, an aide to Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, hinted in a 1 February interview with Al-Diyar television that some Shi'ites may have a problem with the Transitional Administrative Law, which is interpreted by some to grant special privileges to the Kurds.

Al-Safi said the law is "unfair," adding it may not be binding on Iraqis, because, he claimed, it "does not have any legitimacy, especially since it was not adopted by the UN Security Council." "Complaints about the law were numerous and they still exist," al-Safi added. "I am not giving a final opinion here, but I say that perhaps the transitional Iraqi State Administration Law is not binding on us. We still do not see a reason for us to abide by this law. Yes, the law managed the state until now, until 30 January. But after that, the law is unable to address what might happen in the future." He also rejected the law because of its stipulation that the new constitution can be rejected if a majority in three governorates vote against it, saying, "This is not practical." Three Kurdish governorates could, in effect, reject the constitution under the law.

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani was asked in a 31 January interview with Al-Arabiyah television about reports that a deal was struck between the Kurdish parties and the Shi'ite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance list that would give the presidency to Talabani and the seat of prime minister to the alliance. Talabani denied that a deal had been struck. "This is not really true," he said. "As you know, we have good historical relations with the parties of the United Iraqi Alliance. We had earlier discussed the issue of distributing main responsibilities in Iraq, but we did not agree on a clear and certain plan. What took place was an exchange of ideas."

Asked about the inclusion of Sunni oppositionists in the drafting of a permanent constitution, Talabani said: "We insisted and continue to insist on a constitution that is approved by the Iraqi people's main political entities. By this I mean the Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs and the people of Kurdistan. The constitution cannot be written on the basis of minority or majority. There must be agreement among all. I call on the nationalist parties that boycotted the elections -- including the Islamic Party and other antiterror national elements that did not participate in the elections -- to participate in the committees that will be formed to write the constitution. Their opinion must be taken into consideration."

The Sunni Split

Sunni opposition members have taken somewhat divergent stands in their position on the new transitional assembly. The Muslim Scholars Association released a statement on 2 February claiming that the elections "lacked legitimacy" because of the boycott of some Sunni Islamist groups. "This means the coming national assembly and government that will emerge will not possess the legitimacy to enable them to draft the constitution or sign security or economic agreements," the statement said.

Muslim Scholars Association spokesman Umar Raghib spoke to Al-Arabiyah on 2 February about the statement, saying, "We will give [the new government] a chance to show its goodwill and to offer proof of the sincerity of the promises it made to the Iraqi people, led by driving the occupation out. If it does that, we will treat it with respect." Asked why the association does not start to take part in the political process now, Raghib said: "I do not think that the occupation forces would allow any government to be formed unless this government follows its dictates.... This is what we see. Let the occupation leave and then we will be ready for everything."

Sheikh Abd al-Ghafur al-Samarra'i, a Sunni imam and member of the Muslim Scholars Association, told Al-Arabiyah television in a 1 February interview that the association "respects the viewpoints of the Iraqis whether they boycotted or took part in the elections." Al-Samarra'i said that interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir's 1 February call for a national dialogue on the drafting of the constitution that includes all groups, including those that boycotted the elections, was a good step. Asked how the association would respond, al-Samarra'i said: "We are studying the issue. We welcome any action which seeks and encourages Iraq's unity and liberating Iraq through any means on which the Iraqis agree," adding that al-Yawir has credibility among Muslim Scholars Association members, who respect the interim president.

Meanwhile, association spokesman Bashar al-Faydi said that the association respects the groups that took part in the elections, adding that the association will respect the next government and will consider it a caretaker government because it represents part of the Iraqi people, Al-Sharqiyah television reported.

For news, background, and analysis on Iraq's historic 30 January elections, see RFE/RL's webpage "Iraq Votes 2005."