DOHA // More than 10 weeks after Iraq's parliamentary elections, the leader of the party that won the most seats warned yesterday that the formation of a new government would probably take more time.
Ayad Allawi, the former Iraqi prime minister, said during the Al Jazeera Forum in Doha: "Rest assured, we are not about to strike any deal." Responding to suggestions that Nouri al Maliki, the current prime minister, was nearing a secret pact with Mr Allawi's Iraqiyya coalition, Mr Allawi reiterated his opposition to political convenience and hinted at the creation of a unity government. "We don't like this way of wheeling and dealing," he said. "We want a government that should include all Iraqi factions, but should be able to deliver for Iraq and the region."
With considerable support from Sunnis, the Iraqiyya coalition of Mr Allawi, a secular Shiite, came out on top with 91 seats in the March 7 election. Next is Mr al Maliki's State of Law party, with 89 seats. To form a government, a coalition of two or more parties must cobble together a parliamentary majority of at least 163 seats. Any deal is likely to include agreements on filling key positions including president, parliamentary speaker, prime minister and the heads of key ministries.
Tensions and security concerns have begun to rise under Mr al Maliki's lame-duck administration. Many leaders, including Ammar al Hakim of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, have in recent weeks highlighted the possible formation of a national unity government that includes Iraqiyya, the main Sunni-backed party. Last week's announcement of a tentative coalition between Mr al Maliki's party and the Shiite Iraqi National Alliance, which includes the political faction of the cleric Muqtada al Sadr, altered the playing field. Such a deal could make that bloc the largest in parliament and ensure that Mr al Maliki keeps the post he has held since 2006.
wever, Mr al Maliki warned on Saturday of rushing to create an imbalanced government. "The sectarian violence will return and will wipe out everything we have already achieved," he told The New York Times. "We should not bow to the pressures of time and make a big mistake." The leaders of the top two parties were scheduled to meet a few days ago. But Mr al Maliki cancelled at the last minute. Mr Allawi said yesterday: "Maybe he's the prime minister and very busy, I don't know. We asked for another meeting."
Most observers believe Iraq's neighbours have sought to influence the government formation process. Jabber Habib Jabir, an Iraqi MP, speaking at an earlier forum event on Sunday, argued that the outcome of the election, and the delayed government formation, has allowed regional states to interfere. "Nobody wants to have their allies not participating in this new Iraq," Mr Jabir said via video link from Baghdad, mentioning Iran, Turkey and Arab states. "If Iraq is unstable, this instability will be reflected across the region."
Mr Allawi acknowledged regional ties, but urged Iraq's neighbours to stand down. "We hope that there will be no regional interference in any shape or form," he said. "The more interference there is, the more complicated the Iraqi issues become ... we are really endeavouring to make other people understand that it's not in their interest to interfere." Internal concerns may be more troubling. Basil Hussain, a senior researcher at the Iraqi Centre for Strategic Studies in Amman, comparing Iraqi politics to Lebanon's confessional system, worried about the long-term impact of a unity government.
"Should we be like Lebanon? Should we wait 50 years before we start talking about sectarianism?" Mr Hussain said, "It's leading to a very dangerous situation in Iraq." Dr Abdulwahab al Qassab, an official at the Qatar Armed Forces' Centre for Strategic Studies, had another concern. "The first problem in Iraq arises from an imbalanced constitution," he said. "It does not represent the Iraqi people."
Mr Allawi concurred. "This new constitution, because of the haste with which it was written, left it open to many different interpretations on all sides," he said. However, he pointed to the inclusion of an article that allowed for constitutional review to create a truly representative document. The first concern remains the formation of a strong, stable and inclusive government. Despite the delays, Mr Allawi felt Iraqis were up to the task.
"We hope the outcome will be a home-grown one," he said. "Maybe if the situation continues for another year, we will need people to save us." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org