Kurdish leaders have led the way in the ongoing consultations, meeting with representatives from the winning Shi'ite list, United Iraqi Alliance, and Sunni leaders from the Iraqi Islamic Party. The Kurds are reportedly also scheduled to meet with representatives of the Iraqi Turkoman Front. Shi'ite leaders have held at least two meetings with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and one party to the alliance, Iraqi National Congress (INC), has met with members of the Muslim Scholars Association. The series of meetings have left the media scrambling to predict the face of the new government. All parties continue to maintain, however, that they remain undecided on which candidates they will lend their support to for positions in the transitional administration.
Perhaps the most interesting development this week stems from the meeting between Kurdish leader and presidential contender Jalal Talabani and members of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which led to the party's endorsement of Talabani for the presidency. Party leader Muhsin Abd al-Hamid told KurdSat television on 28 February: "We welcome [Talabani's nomination]. Jalal Talabani is a well-heeled and experienced politician who understands very well the state of Iraqi society and he is a true Iraqi." Abd al-Hamid also voiced support for the implementation of Transitional Administrative Law Article 58 that calls for the normalization of Kirkuk and voiced support for "the return of Kirkuk or the boundary of the Kirkuk Governorate to its previous state."
Talabani has called for the inclusion of Sunnis in the transitional government, and it appears that some sort of deal has been cut that might perhaps lead to Talabani's support for an Islamic Party member to assume a high-level position in the government. Abd al-Hamid told Saudi-daily "Ukaz" that his party would not participate in the new government, adding, "This decision is final," the newspaper reported on 23 February. The party would however, seek a strong role in the constitutional drafting committee, he told "Ukaz" in a 28 February report. "We should be primary members of the higher committee entrusted with drafting the constitution. This is an essential condition that we will not concede….We are an integral and indivisible part of the Iraqi structure and fabric," he said.
Some members of the Iraqi Turkoman Front, a grouping that is regularly at odds with the Kurds, proposed on 1 March that Turkomans and Kurds enter into a "serious dialogue" over the issue of Kirkuk. Riyad Sari Kahya of the Turkomaneli Party told PUK daily "Al-Ittihad" that some parties within the grouping have called for the dissolution of the Front and transforming it into a specific party. He added: "We are hoping for a serious dialogue with the Kurdish leadership, particularly with Talabani, to work toward establishing a joint administration in [Kirkuk]. We want Kirkuk to have its own independent status."
In an interview with Istanbul's "Vatan" published on 28 February, Talabani was asked to comment on a reported statement by Turkoman Front member Abd al-Qadir Bezirgan that expressed regret for not aligning with the Kurds in national elections. Bezirgan reportedly called the decision a "tactical error." Talabani told "Vatan" that he had advised the Turkoman Front before the election to join the Kurdistan list, adding: "The Turkomans' interests lie with the Kurds. Because we have been living together for hundreds of years. Despite this, the Turkomans [historically] reach agreement with the Ba'athists, they reach agreement with the Arabs, but they don't reach agreement with the Kurds."
Hizballah head Karim Mahmud al-Muhammadawi has accused the Kurds of implementing a policy of "arm twisting" with transitional National Assembly members, "Al-Hayat" reported on 1 March. "The demands that the Kurds presented for forging an alliance with the other parliamentary blocs expose the political blackmail that the Kurdish bloc is practicing by using the policy of arm twisting to pressure the other blocs to accede to their demands, especially in the matter of recognizing the peshmerga as a regular force and the annexation of Kirkuk city," he contended.
"If there is the Kirkuk issue or other issues that can be solved according to the provisions of the Transitional Administrative Law, then they will be dealt with in the coming time but they must not be an obstacle for progress in the political process" -- alliance member Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum
Talabani may also soon face increased tension with members of the Shi'ite party, Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). SCIRI leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim told AP in an interview published on 28 February that the new Iraq must be an Islamic state with laws that do not "violate Islam." Talabani has reportedly said: Kurds "will not live in an Iraq ruled by an Islamic government," "Al-Hayat" reported on 25 February.
Meanwhile, the United Iraqi Alliance's candidate for premier, Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, led a five-member alliance delegation in a meeting in Salah Al-Din with Kurdish leader Mas'ud Barzani on 1 March. Barzani said after the talks: "We share some points of views. We stressed the need for continued talks, as well as for achieving accord in the formation of the next Iraqi Government, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on the same day. Al-Ja'fari said that the two parties managed to overcome a number of outstanding issues, but did not elaborate. "We highlighted the importance of national unity and the need for Sunnis to participate in the next Iraqi government," he added.
Alliance member Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq in an interview broadcast on 1 March that al-Ja'fari's meeting with the Kurds was a continuation of earlier discussions between the two groups. "We had known there would be a number of hot issues that cannot be solved in a moment but can be solved gradually and dealt with thoroughly in the coming time. We can focus on the political process and head it in this direction," Bahr al-Ulum said. "I suppose that the Kurdish brothers really understand the situation, the political process, and the sensitivity of conditions. Therefore, if there is the Kirkuk issue or other issues that can be solved according to the provisions of the Transitional Administrative Law, then they will be dealt with in the coming time but they must not be an obstacle for progress in the political process."
"Al-Hayat" reported on 1 March that the United Iraqi Alliance has held an internal meeting to draw up the mechanisms for alliances with other blocs and choose the ministries it wishes to hold. Alliance member Ali Faysal al-Lami told the daily that the "discussions focused on the distribution of the sovereign ministries between the winning blocs," adding that the alliance has been instructed by Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani to include Sunnis in the government.
Al-Lami contended that the current proposal under consideration by alliance members would give the parliamentary speaker's position to a Sunni, either interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir or Constitutional Monarchy Movement head al-Sharif Ali bin al-Husayn. Al-Yawir has been cited in the press as saying he would not accept the position, telling Al-Sharqiyah in a 27 February interview that the presidency should be reserved for a Sunni Arab. He contended that a Sunni Arab president would lead to a state of balance and accord, the television channel reported. Islamic Al-Da'wah Party member Jawad al-Maliki reportedly hinted to London-based "Al-Hayat" last week that the alliance might seek to place a Sunni in the position of deputy prime minister, the daily reported on 25 February.
Sunni leader Adnan Pachachi's Independent Democrats Grouping said in a 1 March statement that representatives from 23 Iraqi political parties and groups have met at the grouping's headquarters to discuss how to participate in the drafting of the constitution. An 18-member committee was set up to examine the issue, Kurdistan Satellite Television reported on 1 March.
Meanwhile, Iraqi National Congress member Qays Wattut told "Al-Hayat" that Muslim Scholars Association leaders told the INC that the association remains concerned that the federalism supported by some parties (i.e., the Kurds) might be part of a plan to divide Iraq. Both Talabani and Barzani have demanded a federal Kurdistan; a demand that has the backing of the United Iraqi Alliance.