National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i is a member of the mostly Shi’a United Iraqi Alliance. He told RFE/RL’s Iraqi Service yesterday that candidates for most top positions have been agreed upon.
"We agreed on almost [everything], including the prime minister. We agreed on most of the ministries and their details," he said. "What is left are some simple problems that have some kind of importance and we are still discussing them. We think, today or tomorrow or after tomorrow, we will solve these problems. We hope the National Assembly will meet again or will continue its first session either on Thursday or Friday [24 or 25 March] at the latest."
The Shi’a and Kurdish blocs hope to present a “package deal” to the National Assembly, which must ratify the new government. The two blocs jointly control more than two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly, enough to assure passage for any deal they strike.
The progress toward a new government has not been easy. The negotiations are now in their eighth week since Iraqis went to the polls on 30 January to elect the National Assembly, and imminent deals have been announced before.
Still, many analysts say that, this time, a government looks within reach. They say the government will most likely feature Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as president and United Iraqi Alliance candidate Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, the head of a Shi’a religious party, as prime minister.
Kamran al-Karadaghi is an Iraq expert at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in London who recently visited Kurdish-administered northern Iraq. Al-Karadaghi says the Kurdish and Shi’a blocs had little difficultly agreeing on the candidates for the top spots. But they had serious problems agreeing on a common vision for Iraq’s future.
He says the Kurds demanded Iraq be a federation in which the Kurdish-administered areas maintain at least the degree of autonomy they now enjoy. They have been particularly keen to keep control of their own armed forces, the “peshmerga.”
“They insist that their armed forces, the peshmerga, should be part of the Iraqi army, but at the same time they will be accountable to the Kurdish authorities," he says. "And even the Iraqi army will have no right to enter the Kurdistan federal region without the approval of the Kurdistan parliament.”
The Shi’a bloc had sought to absorb the peshmerga into Iraq’s centrally controlled security services. But the United Iraqi Alliance now appears to have accepted the Kurds’ demand. The details are due to be worked out during the writing of Iraq's constitution later this year.
The Kurds also have sought support for their desire to bring the disputed multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk into the Kurdish-administered region. The resolution of that issue remains unclear, but many analysts expect it to now be put off until the writing of the constitution.
The United Iraqi Alliance, which includes powerful religious parties, is reported to have sought a prominent role for Islamic values in Iraq's new order.
The religious parties’ demands in the past have included making Islamic law, or Sharia, the sole source for Iraq’s legal code. But those demands have run into strong opposition from secular Kurdish and other politicians.
Al-Karadaghi says all sides now appear to have agreed that Islam will be one of several sources for Iraq’s laws.
“I think when the agreement is announced it will make crystal clear that Islam will not be the [sole] source of law in Iraq and that all religions will be respected in Iraq and there will be no law which will violate any religion in Iraq," he says. "This is what the Kurds were insisting upon.”
Iraqi law has drawn on both secular and Islamic principles since modern Iraq’s independence in 1932.
As the Shi’a and Kurds have sought a “package deal,” they have also had to wrestle with how to accommodate Iraq’s once-dominant Sunni minority.
The Sunnis are under-represented in the National Assembly after most Sunni voters heeded community leaders’ calls to boycott the 30 January election, or stayed home for security reasons.
News reports say the two blocs have agreed that a Sunni should hold the influential post of speaker of the parliament -- despite the fact that the biggest Sunni party in the assembly has just five seats. The likely candidate is current interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir.
The Shi’a and Kurdish blocs are also reported to have agreed that one of Iraq’s two vice president positions will go to a Sunni. Leading candidates are Adnan Pachachi, who served as prime minister in the 1950s, and Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, a member of Iraq’s deposed Hashemite dynasty.
The other vice presidency is expected to go to current interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, whose party holds the third-largest bloc of seats in the assembly. Allawi is a secular Shi’a politician with close ties to Washington.