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New Alliances In Iraq Cross Sectarian Lines

In Baghdad, Saleh al-Mutlak, a leading secular Sunni Arab politician, says his supporters will ally with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, of the Shiite Dawa party, in four provinces.
In Baghdad, Saleh al-Mutlak, a leading secular Sunni Arab politician, says his supporters will ally with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, of the Shiite Dawa party, in four provinces. (By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)
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Mutlak said that Maliki had proposed an alliance for parliamentary elections, too. But, he said, "we're still studying the message."

Since the fall of Hussein, religious Shiites and Kurds had effectively served as the coalition at the heart of power in Iraq. Maliki's emergence has upset that formula, and virtually every component of the Shiite alliance has now gone its own way. The bloc that claimed to speak on behalf of long-reticent Sunnis has splintered, too, unable even to agree on a replacement for the speaker of parliament, who resigned in December.

Fayed al-Shamari, a leader of Maliki's Dawa party in Najaf who will serve on the provincial council there, said he foresees a grand coalition for the December parliamentary elections that would join Maliki with influential Sunni leaders, elements of the U.S.-backed Sunni movement that turned against the insurgency and perhaps even Moqtada al-Sadr, a militant Shiite cleric whose followers witnessed a political resurgence in the January vote. Strikingly, it would not include Maliki's other Shiite rivals or Kurds.

A hint of that alignment emerged in Wasit province, where Maliki's supporters were reported to have joined with Allawi's list and Sadr's followers.

"There's a great possibility for this," Shamari said, although even he questioned whether it could withstand the seismic conflicts over the very nature of the Iraqi state, namely its power in relation to the provinces. "With any coalition, you have an ambition for it to be permanent," he said. "But ambition doesn't always match reality."

Mutlak envisioned three main groups competing in the December vote: A list that he led, Maliki's group and an alliance of Kurds and religious parties -- both the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party. One example of the third grouping has emerged in Diyala province, where the Supreme Council agreed to an alliance with the Islamic Party, said Ridha Jawad Taqi, a lawmaker from the Supreme Council.

Mutlak, an agricultural engineer who grew wealthy under Hussein's government and is sometimes spoken of as a candidate for Iraq's presidency, said any future national alliance with Maliki would depend on cooperation in the provincial councils.

"We want to see what he's going to give," he said in the interview. "Is he going to behave as a real partner or is he going to try to isolate the others?"

He said he was still skeptical. "We don't think Maliki is going to act in a democratic way. We're worried that he's collecting power in a dictatorial way."

Mutlak said it was his understanding that Maliki had already reached provincial alliances with an electoral list supported by Sadr's followers, a deal that Shamari, of Maliki's Dawa party, called likely. But spokesmen for Sadr and the list of candidates he supported said negotiations are ongoing.

"We think they only want alliances in the provinces where they're facing difficulties. They reject us in the provinces where they feel comfortable," said Ameer al-Kinani, the head of the Trend of Free Independents, the list Sadr's followers supported.

Sadr's supporters did especially well in Dhi Qar and Maysan provinces in the south, where negotiations are underway to pick top officials.

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