Allawi reaches out after Iraq election win

Former prime minister Ayad Allawi appeals for national unity during a news conference at his party's headquarters in Baghdad.
Former prime minister Ayad Allawi appeals for national unity during a news conference at his party's headquarters in Baghdad. (Karim Kadim/associated Press)
By Leila Fadel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, March 28, 2010

BAGHDAD -- Former prime minister Ayad Allawi began reaching out to other political blocs Saturday for allies he needs to form Iraq's next government, while accusing his main rival, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, of maneuvering to undercut his victory in the March 7 parliamentary elections.

Allawi, whose Iraqiya list bested Maliki's State of Law coalition by two seats, 91 to 89, in results announced Friday, faces the greater challenge in putting together a majority. A secular Shiite who won by attracting Sunni Arab and secular voters, Allawi will have to woo other Shiite politicians -- some of whom view Maliki as a more palatable, albeit imperfect, option -- as well as Kurds.

He will also almost certainly have to make overtures to predominantly Shiite Iran, which is more influential in Iraqi politics than the United States.

Allawi appealed for national unity Saturday, saying in a news conference at his party's headquarters, "The time has come to start building the country and laying the grounds for stability and economic development."

Maliki is making the same appeal, even as he refuses to recognize the electoral results and calls for a recount. Iraqiya officials expressed concern Saturday that Maliki will use his position as head of a caretaker government during the appeals process and months of political jockeying to try to reduce the number of seats won by Allawi's bloc. Dozens of candidates were purged before the elections for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath Party, with Allawi's bloc losing the most people. A second round of 55 disqualifications, announced on the eve of the vote, could erode Iraqiya's slim margin if the candidates lose their appeals.

In a TV interview Saturday, Allawi also alleged that members of his group had been detained.

"I think [Maliki will] use every means at his disposal, as he made pretty clear he would," said Gary Grappo, chief of the U.S. Embassy's political section. "But he also made clear in his [post-election] statement that he would work within the constitution and within the rule of law. We will take him at his word."

Maliki appears to have begun using the legal system to block Allawi's rise. On Thursday, Iraq's supreme court interpreted an ambiguous clause in the constitution as saying that the largest bloc in parliament, with the right to form the next government, could be two or more groups that merged after the election. The opinion could allow Maliki's State of Law and a rival Shiite bloc to claim the right to form a government first.

Allawi disputed the court's interpretation during the TV interview Saturday.

The Obama administration's mantra throughout the electoral process was that it had no preference among the candidates and was concerned only that disputes be resolved without violence, within Iraq's legal structure. "It will be important for all sides to refrain from inflammatory rhetoric and intimidation," the State Department said Friday. "It also is important that the Iraqi government continue to provide security and other essential services for its citizens during this period leading to the formation of a government."

U.S. officials have insisted that they will not change plans to withdraw this summer nearly half of the 95,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq. "We don't expect it to cut into the withdrawal schedule at this point in time," Grappo said of the bickering and potential delay.

If Maliki prevails in forming a new government and shutting Allawi out, he is likely to enrage Sunni Arabs who came to see Allawi as their best shot at regaining power.

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