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Another National Unity Government in Baghdad?

Politicians of the State of Law Coalition assemble in Baghdad.
Politicians of the State of Law Coalition assemble in Baghdad.
As the political horse-trading among Iraq's political factions drags on in the wake of the country's parliamentary elections last month, there has been a growing call for the formation of another so-called national unity government, which would include all of Iraq's political factions.

The idea has sparked a debate in Iraq over the merits and deficiencies of unity government, with various factions and political figures lining up on either side of the proposal. Its proponents -- such as former parliament speaker Iyad al-Samara'i -- have argued that "reality requires" the formation of a national unity government, and that failing to do so could "keep marginalizing major factions inside Iraqi society."

Likewise, deputy Ammar Tohme of the Iraqi National Alliance told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq that a national unity government is "a national solution, which will prohibit any one coalition from attempting to monopolize power."

Even U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill has hinted that he believes a unity government might be the best outcome for Iraq.

Opponents of a national unity government, however, have countered that such a formulation would result in continued political deadlock, leaving the next government paralyzed by too many competing factions and unable to govern effectively.

Iyad Allawi, whose Al-Iraqiyah coalition won the most seats in the elections last month, declared that a national unity government would be "stagnant, as the current government has been." Allawi went on to argue that Iraq "needs to have a government that can function and provide...for the security of this country."

Other political analysts have argued that a national unity government, while possibly successful in achieving short-term political stability in Iraq, would ultimately prove detrimental to the development of Iraqi democracy. They argue that the absence of a strong, vibrant opposition in this crucial period of Iraq's democracy would leave Iraq unable to develop a lasting tradition of opposition politics.

Brookings Institution analyst Kenneth Pollack argues that a national unity government "would represent nothing but a temporary papering over all of the deep divisions among Iraq's political parties, and would simply bring those differences inside the government, inevitably paralyzing it. So while we could have the fiction of unity in the short term, we will have created a completely incapable Iraqi government unable to govern effectively in the months to come."

In a recent analysis, Radio Free Iraq's Hashem Ali Mandee states that the controversy "raises the question of whether the Iraqi political parties understand the concepts embodied in Western democracies, where governance is seen as a means to achieve national goals, and to serve the higher interests of the homeland and its citizens."

"In countries which are subject to the rule of dictatorial regimes or are in the early stages of democratic development, governance is often seen as an end in itself, sought by politicians for the purposes of narrow personal and partisan interests," Mandee explained. "Many Iraqis are increasingly convinced that...political forces are interested in forming an extended government of national unity simply because they want to ensure their own participation in the government."

Mandee's analysis is supported by the fact that many of the political leaders who have come out in favor of a national unity government would likely see significant personal benefit from such an arrangement. The fractured Al-Tawafuq (Accord) Front of Iyad al-Samara'i suffered a crushing defeat at the polls this year, dropping from 44 seats to just six. It is telling that both Allawi's Al-Iraqiyah and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition, which placed first (91 seats) and second (89 seats) respectively, have been cool to the proposal, as they continue to race to see who can form a viable government first.

-- Alex Mayer

Iraq Elections 2010: Complete Results

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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