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Iraq's Ayad Allawi warns of sectarian war, says U.S. must aid reconciliation

By Leila Fadel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 15, 2010; A11

BAGHDAD -- Former prime minister Ayad Allawi, whose bloc won the largest number of seats in Iraq's March 7 parliamentary elections, warned Wednesday that the country could slide into a sectarian war if his group is shut out of the next government and said the United States should work more aggressively to prevent that from happening.

Allawi, a secular Shiite who attracted the votes of millions of Sunnis and some Shiites, said in an interview in his Baghdad office that his Iraqiya bloc represents the change Iraqis crave after years of sectarian violence. But he accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, of using his power to alter the electoral outcome and preserve the status quo.

If the United States and the United Nations do not step up during what is widely expected to be a months-long political vacuum, they will leave behind an unstable nation and region when they depart, he said.

Despite his win, Allawi, who wants his old post back, may be left with nothing if Maliki's State of Law bloc joins forces in the next parliament with the Iraqi National Alliance, a mostly religious Shiite coalition. Allawi warned that a religious Shiite government would lead to renewed bloodshed.

"I told them, 'Don't embark on this course,' " Allawi said, referring to a meeting with the Shiite alliance. "It's going to be very dangerous, it's going to be counterproductive, and the backlash will be severe. The whole foundation of whatever infant democracy we've built will be ruined."

Allawi said that he has sought to meet with Maliki to discuss the process of forming a government but that no date has been set.

U.S. officials have largely restricted their involvement to privately urging leaders to act responsibly as the political jockeying continues, in some cases spilling into the streets. At least 90 people were killed in attacks over five days last month.

Allawi said the United States has done little to help achieve goals spelled out under the George W. Bush administration. Those include forging reconciliation through political settlements, amending Iraq's constitution, enacting legislation to regulate the oil industry, and being more judicious about purging loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from government. Sunni leaders say Shiite politicians have used such action against alleged Baathists to weaken Sunnis' political clout.

"In the interim -- as America is still here, and as America still enjoys respectability in this country -- they should focus on political reforms and use their offices here to forge reconciliation," Allawi said. "There should have been much more criticism of the de-Baathification. All of it was without any foundation."

Allawi's bloc has been the main target of a policy instituted by the United States in 2003 to purge the government of officials loyal to the outlawed Baath Party. The Accountability and Justice Commission, which is run by rival Shiite politicians, purged more than 70 members of the bloc before the elections and is now trying to remove at least four others. More than 40 members of the group are in jails in Baghdad with no contact with the outside world, Allawi said. At least one victorious Iraqiya candidate is in jail, and four others are the subject of arrest warrants, he added.

"I said to the Americans: 'Security is not only a function of the number of troops you have. It's changing the political landscape -- creating reconciliation, implementing reconciliation,' " Allawi said. "I said, and still believe, even if you raise the security forces to a million, it wouldn't matter."

On Wednesday, Allawi sent a delegation to neighboring Iran in an effort to garner support from the Islamic republic's leadership, which plays a quiet but crucial role in Iraqi politics, and to say that the Iraqiya bloc would not be its enemy, he said.

"The delegation is there to explain to the Iranians that we are not warmongers and we want a very sound and good relationship with Iran and the rest of the neighbors," he said. "But also we are not willing to accept interference in internal matters, just as we don't want to interfere in Iranian internal matters."

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