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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: Iraq within days of ending political stalemate

In an interview with the Monitor, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says Iraq could announce a new coalition government next week.

By Jane ArrafCorrespondent / October 8, 2010

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki shown during a meeting with members of the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) and the State of Law coalition in Baghdad, on Oct 1.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says his Shiite coalition is close to forming a government and could announce a new coalition by next week, ending Iraq's long-running political crisis.

“This is not going to be easily determined but the progress of these talks indicates we have come to near the end of these negotiations,” Mr. Maliki told the Monitor today.

Speaking in his first interview since he received the key backing of hard-line Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr last week, Maliki says he expects the results of negotiations with the Kurdish coalition and talks with the secular Iraqiya bloc to become clear in the next two to three days.

Although the most likely scenario appeared to involve an alliance with Ayad Allawi, whose Iraqiya coalition includes many Sunnis, it was still unclear whether Allawi would accept Maliki’s terms. The proposed alliance with Mr. Allawi also appeared to sideline the Kurds.

Months of political deadlock

Iraqis went to the polls in March in the first national election since they regained full sovereignty. But forming a government that does not exclude major groups and risk reigniting sectarian violence has proved agonizingly difficult.

When none of the candidates won enough seats to form a majority in parliament, Maliki demanded – and obtained – a recount. Seven months after the election, negotiations have just recently swung into high gear.

Maliki, who is still more than 20 seats short of the 163-seat majority that he needs in parliament, looks almost certain to be the next prime minister, unless his main Shiite rival Adel Abdul Mehdi can muster enough votes.

Allawi will not be president: Maliki

Recent reports suggest that Allawi could become president, rather than the next prime minister. But Maliki said Friday that Allawi would not be Iraq's next president.

“The presidency is essentially spoken for,” says Maliki, referring to the Kurdish claim to the position currently held by Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, saying they would have to relinquish the position. “Take it from me in full confidence – the Kurds will not forgo the position of president and the president will be Jalal Talabani.”

Instead, he says, they were offering Allawi the position of head of a powerful new body named the National Council for Strategic Studies, a decision-making body, as well as the position of speaker of parliament and a share of key ministries for members of Iraqiya.

Maliki says all the parties had rejected a proposal made to them by Vice President Biden in which Talabani would become a special ambassadorial envoy, Allawi would be named president, and Maliki would remain prime minister. American officials have publicly said the US has not promoted any plan but privately have made clear that they will back any government that includes Sunnis, Kurds, and Shiites.

The emergence of Shiite power

The war that toppled Saddam Hussein also paved the way for Iraq’s Shiite majority to take power for the first time – sending shock waves throughout the region and within the country’s traditional Sunni political elite. The US decision to disband the Iraqi Army and outlaw the Baath Party is blamed for fueling the insurgency. Now, maintaining a balance of power between Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds is seen as the key to Iraq holding together.

Maliki has had a roller-coaster ride during political negotiations over the past several months. Although popular in the street, he is widely distrusted by most of his former political allies, who have accused him of not consulting them on national security and other crucial issues. The Shiite coalition he oversees has splintered and come back together several times. In its latest incarnation, the rival Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq has split from the coalition, while the Sadrists, who withdrew their support for Maliki, returned to the fold.

The Moqtada al-Sadr factor

Maliki denies reports that he had promised the Sadrists top security posts in exchange for their support, but says they would be given a number of other ministries proportionate to their strength in the alliance. “They want to participate in the political process and distance themselves from the violence, militias, and weapons and other tactics that they used before and we want to encourage them in this matter,” he says.

Mr. Sadr’s paramilitary Mahdi Army, made up mostly of poor and disenfranchised Shiites, fought US troops in the streets in 2004. Two years ago, after the militia seized control of Basra, Maliki sent in the Iraqi Army to retake the city.

The US has publicly warned against giving the Sadrists a strong role in government despite their having won the biggest single bloc of seats in parliament in the March election.

Asked about the likelihood of negotiating a new security agreement with US forces after they withdraw from Iraq at the end of next year, Maliki says it would be up to the new government and parliament to decide whether that was needed.

“Because we have bought American weapons, it would be customary for the country that supplies them to also supply expertise,” he says, giving an example of a possible remaining US military presence here.

Perdana Menteri Iraq Nouri al-Maliki yang ditunjukkan semasa mesyuarat dengan ahli-ahli Perikatan Kebangsaan Iraq (INA) dan Negeri gabungan Undang-undang di Baghdad, pada 1 Oktober.

Perdana Menteri Iraq Nouri al-Maliki berkata, gabungan Syiah berhampiran dengan membentuk sebuah kerajaan dan boleh mengumumkan satu gabungan baru dengan minggu depan, berakhir krisis politik jangka berjalan di Iraq.

"Ini tidak akan mudah yang ditentukan, tetapi kemajuan ini ceramah menunjukkan kita sudah sampai kepada berhampiran akhir rundingan-rundingan ini," Encik Maliki memberitahu Memantau hari ini.

Bercakap dalam temu bual pertama sejak beliau menerima sokongan utama garis keras Syiah ulama Moqtada al-Sadr minggu lepas, Maliki berkata beliau menjangkakan keputusan rundingan dengan gabungan Kurdish dan mengadakan perbincangan dengan blok Iraqiya sekular menjadi jelas dalam dua tahun tiga hari.

Walaupun senario yang mungkin muncul untuk melibatkan perikatan dengan Ayad Allawi, yang gabungan Iraqiya termasuk Sunni banyak, ia masih tidak jelas sama ada Allawi akan menerima terma Maliki. Perikatan yang dicadangkan dengan En. Allawi juga muncul untuk meminggirkan orang Kurd.
Bulan kebuntuan politik

Iraq pergi ke pemilihan pada bulan Mac pada pilihan raya kebangsaan yang pertama sejak mereka kembali kedaulatan penuh. Tetapi membentuk sebuah kerajaan yang tidak tidak termasuk kumpulan-kumpulan utama dan risiko reigniting keganasan mazhab telah terbukti agonizingly sukar.

Apabila tiada seorang pun calon-calon yang memenangi kerusi yang cukup untuk membentuk majoriti di Parlimen, Maliki menuntut dan mendapat satu pengiraan semula. Tujuh bulan selepas pilihan raya itu, rundingan hanya baru-baru ini mengayunkan ke gear tinggi.

Maliki, yang masih lebih dari 20 kerusi pendek majoriti 163 kerusi yang dia perlukan di parlimen, kelihatan hampir pasti untuk menjadi Perdana Menteri akan datang, melainkan utama saingan Syiah Adel Abdul Mehdi boleh mengumpul undi yang mencukupi.
Allawi tidak akan menjadi Presiden: Maliki

Laporan baru-baru ini menunjukkan bahawa Allawi boleh menjadi presiden, dan bukannya perdana menteri akan datang. Tetapi Maliki berkata Jumaat bahawa Allawi tidak akan menjadi presiden Iraq.

"Jawatan presiden ini pada asasnya bercakap untuk," kata Maliki, merujuk kepada tuntutan Kurdish kedudukan yang kini dipegang oleh Jalal Talabani, ketua Kesatuan Patriotik Kurdistan, berkata mereka perlu melepaskan jawatan itu. "Ambillah dari saya dalam penuh keyakinan - Kurd tidak akan melepaskan jawatan presiden dan presiden akan Jalal Talabani."

Sebaliknya, beliau berkata, mereka yang menawarkan Allawi kedudukan ketua badan yang kuat yang baru yang dinamakan Majlis Negara bagi Kajian Strategik, sebuah badan yang membuat keputusan, serta kedudukan Speaker parlimen dan bahagian kementerian utama untuk ahli-ahli Iraqiya.

Maliki berkata semua pihak-pihak yang telah menolak cadangan yang dibuat kepada mereka oleh Naib Presiden Biden di mana Talabani akan menjadi duta duta khas, Allawi akan diberi nama presiden, dan Maliki akan kekal sebagai Perdana Menteri. Pegawai Amerika telah secara terbuka berkata Amerika Syarikat telah tidak digalakkan mana-mana pelan tetapi persendirian telah dibuat jelas bahawa mereka akan kembali mana-mana kerajaan yang termasuk Sunni, Kurd, dan Syiah.
Kemunculan kuasa Syiah

Perang yang menggulingkan Saddam Hussein juga membuka jalan bagi majoriti Syiah Iraq untuk merampas kuasa buat kali pertama menghantar gelombang kejutan di seluruh rantau ini dan dalam elit tradisional negara Sunni politik. Keputusan AS untuk membubarkan Tentera dan mengharamkan Iraq Parti Baath dipersalahkan kerana bahan api pemberontakan. Sekarang, mengekalkan imbangan kuasa di antara puak Syiah, Sunni, dan Kurd dilihat sebagai kunci ke Iraq yang memegang bersama-sama.

Maliki mempunyai menaiki roller-coaster semasa rundingan politik sejak beberapa bulan yang lalu. Walaupun popular di jalan, dia secara meluas tidak dipercayai oleh kebanyakan sekutu bekas politik, yang menuduh dia tidak berunding dengan mereka mengenai keselamatan negara dan isu-isu penting yang lain. Pakatan Syiah beliau menyelia telah berpecah dan kembali bersama-sama beberapa kali. Inkarnasi terkini, Majlis Tertinggi lawan Islam di Iraq telah berpecah daripada gabungan itu, manakala Sadrists, yang menarik balik sokongan mereka untuk Maliki, kembali ke lipatan.
Moqtada al-Sadr faktor

Maliki menafikan laporan bahawa dia telah berjanji Sadrists keselamatan jawatan tertinggi dalam pertukaran atas sokongan mereka, tetapi mengatakan mereka akan diberikan beberapa kementerian lain yang seimbang untuk kekuatan mereka dalam persekutuan. "Mereka mahu mengambil bahagian dalam proses politik dan menjauhkan diri daripada keganasan, militan, dan senjata dan taktik lain yang mereka digunakan sebelum ini dan kita mahu menggalakkan mereka dalam perkara ini," katanya.

Mr Sadr separa tentera Mahdi Army, terdiri kebanyakannya Syiah miskin dan disenfranchised, berperang tentera AS di jalan raya pada tahun 2004. Dua tahun lalu, selepas militia merampas kuasa daripada Basra, Maliki dihantar dalam Tentera Iraq untuk merebut kembali kota itu.

AS telah secara terbuka memberi amaran terhadap memberi Sadrists peranan yang kuat dalam kerajaan, walaupun setelah mereka memenangi blok terbesar tunggal kerusi parlimen pada pilihan raya Mac.

Ditanya mengenai kemungkinan untuk berunding perjanjian keselamatan yang baru dengan tentera AS selepas mereka menarik diri dari Iraq pada akhir tahun depan, Maliki berkata ia akan kepada kerajaan baru dan Parlimen untuk memutuskan sama ada yang diperlukan.

"Oleh kerana kita telah membeli senjata Amerika, ia akan menjadi adat bagi negara yang membekalkan mereka juga membekalkan kepakaran," katanya, memberi contoh kemungkinan baki kehadiran tentera US di sini.

Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2010/1008/Iraqi-Prime-Minister-Nouri-al-Maliki-Iraq-within-days-of-ending-political-stalemate 

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