Maliki-Allawi deal could end impasse

By Leila Fadel
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

BAGHDAD - Key supporters of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and representatives of his biggest rival are discussing a power-sharing deal that could break the nearly seven-month political impasse in Iraq and deliver the kind of inclusive government the United States has been advocating.

Officials from the Sunni-backed slate that won more seats than any other party in Iraq's March 7 parliamentary elections said Monday that they would probably lift their boycott of Maliki and support the controversial Shiite leader for another term if their candidate becomes president and the powers of that traditionally ceremonial job are expanded.

The potential deal would end a tense period that has polarized the nation along sectarian and ethnic lines as political blocs traded accusations and violence remained steady in Iraq's streets.

With Maliki and secular Shiite Ayad Allawi sharing power, the government would represent both Iraq's Sunni and Shiite Arab votes. Much of the support for Allawi's faction came from Iraq's Sunni Arabs.

Worried that political deadlock could eat away at security gains made in the past two years, the United States has pushed for an arrangement between Maliki and Allawi's Iraqiya bloc that would leave Maliki as prime minister but put Allawi into another powerful role in Iraq's government.

Vice President Biden has called all the major players in Iraq in recent days, according to a senior Obama administration official, and reemphasized U.S. support for "a process, not a specific candidate or outcome," that results in an "inclusive government."

"We believe . . . all four large coalitions must play a role," and continue to urge them to do so, the official said. The administration thinks that Maliki "still has to reach out to the Kurds, at a minimum," and that they will "only play ball if Iraqiya is in and there is a meaningful" shift of powers from the office of prime minister. "Maliki's very positive statements in recent days about inclusivity and reconciliation seem to acknowledge this reality," he said.

Iraqiya had yet to officially meet with members of Maliki's State of Law bloc, Shiite and Iraqiya legislators said Monday. But Maliki seemed to be open to the proposal, one Shiite legislator from within the National Alliance said. The two sides expect to discuss the arrangement after Allawi's planned return Tuesday from a visit to Cairo.

"I think Maliki will agree with this because he wants to guarantee [Iraqiya's] 91 votes,'' the legislator with knowledge of the possible deal said.

The agreement was proposed Sunday night during a telephone conversation between Allawi and Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the leader of a large faction that threw its weight behind Maliki on Friday, said a senior official inside the largely Sunni-backed bloc of Iraqiya. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

The proposal from Sadr, who is studying in Iran, followed meetings between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, two of the most influential regional players in Iraq's government-formation process. The proposed deal would likely be well received in neighboring Iran, where officials have been backing Maliki.

"Moqtada said it won't keep the alliance with Maliki unless Dr. Allawi is the president with more authorities,'' the official said. "I think this is acceptable.''

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