By Leila Fadel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, June 1, 2010; 4:41 PM
But the appointment of the next cabinet and prime minister is likely weeks, if not months, away as political jockeying over Iraq's top government jobs continue.
The U.S. Embassy in Iraq welcomed the certification. American officials have been concerned about the pace of the formation of the government, which coincides with a U.S. military drawdown to no more than 50,000 troops by the end of the summer. Since the election, the nation has plunged into a period uncertainty and endured a series of bloody attacks that have killed hundreds in the midst of a political vacuum. The president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, now must ask parliament to convene its first session within 15 days.
The court, led by Judge Midhat al-Mahmoud, the nation's top jurist, on Tuesday certified all but two of the names. Iraq's electoral commission must vet the final two candidates, Mahmoud said.
The certification follows months of political upsets that many blame on Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's desire to keep his job, even though his coalition lost the popular vote to secular Shiite Ayad Allawi.
Allawi, a former prime minister who leads a largely Sunni political bloc, says that, with the largest electoral bloc of 91 seats, he has the right to form the next government. The federal court rendered a decision that the largest bloc on the day the 325-member parliament convenes will be the first contender to appoint the prime minister and in turn his cabinet.
A spokesman for Allawi's Iraqiya said it still plans to form the government. If it is shut out, Haider al-Mullah said it would be the "assassination" of the political process.
It is unclear whether the ruling is binding, but Maliki's tentative merger with the Shiite Iraqi National Alliance could mean that Allawi, most popular among Sunni Arabs and secular Iraqis, will not be able to form the next government. Many Sunni and secular Iraqis are already angered by what they worry will be a Shiite-led government with a smattering of Sunni leaders in their midst to please the sizable Sunni Arab community.
Ibrahim al-Mutlaq, a Sunni candidate who was purged for his supposed loyalties to Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party, was reinstated by the court. Mutlaq's brother Saleh al-Mutlaq, a legislator in Iraq's last parliament and a member of Allawi's bloc, was not reinstated. The move to reinstate Ibrahim al-Mutlaq may signal an olive branch as Maliki and his potential partners in the Shiite alliance try to woo Sunni leaders from Allawi's bloc so their government is seen as inclusive.
"This main hurdle was overcome and the only thing left is now to start forming the next government," Ibrahim al-Mutlaq said by phone. "Much time has been lost, almost three months, and during this time there has been a rise in violence and explosions, which should compel all sides to speed up the process."
Maliki is emerging as the most likely contender for Iraq's top job, but he's garnered even more enemies in his quest to get more votes for his own bloc, which won 89 seats. A partial recount did not change the results. One of the candidates who has not been certified by the court is from his potential partner bloc, the Iraqi National Alliance, and the other from Allawi's Iraqiya bloc. The commission vetted both candidates and considered them viable for their seats, said Saad al-Rawi, an official at the commission. He said the commission did not know why the court had not certified the two men.
But the prime minister's strength is in the lack of other viable Shiite contenders.
When parliament convenes, it will still have a road ahead filled with obstacles. In the first session, legislators are to appoint the speaker of the parliament and his two deputies. Following the 2005 election, the parliament convened but kept the session open for several weeks to give political blocs more time to agree on top positions in back-room deals, a tactic Iraqi officials said they probably will use again.
Once the speaker and his deputies are appointed, legislators will elect a president, who has 15 days to give the nominee of the largest bloc in parliament the first chance to form a government. If that person fails, the president will ask someone else to try.
Special correspondents K.I. Ibrahim and Jinan Hussein contributed to this report.