x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

After Iraq vote, wrangling to form government will begin

With no single political bloc expected to win a majority in Iraq's election, weeks of political wrangling as new government takes shape are expected.

BAGHDAD // With no single political bloc expected to win a majority in Iraq's Sunday election, weeks of political wrangling as a new government takes shape are expected. The fragmented Iraqi political scene is organised into a confusing array of coalitions and alliances, but even in their current groupings no list is expected to win more than a third of the vote and many ties are unlikely to hold after election day. It could be months before the new government is finalised and there are fears for Iraq's security during the crucial post-election period when no clear leader will be in place, analysts said.

Preliminary results will start to be released within two days of the poll and will be followed by a flurry of political manoeuvring and alignments. A recent poll by the government's National Media Center put the prime minister's State of Law list, dominated by his Dawa Party, ahead with 30 per cent of the vote. Sadiq al Rikabi, one of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's key political advisers, said it could be the end of May before the make-up of the new government is clear, although he expects Dawa to have "real presence".

"It's clear for all the players that no one list can form the government, so obviously we need to build a future coalition between them," he said. "We have no concrete commitment and no closed doors - all doors are open. This is the political game." Dawa faces some of its strongest competition from the former prime minister Ayad Allawi's secular coalition, Iraqiya, followed by the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), a bloc made up of largely Shiite conservatives.

But while it fights the INA at the polls, Mr al Maliki's party must also consider preparations for a post-election alliance. "A coalition with the Kurds is essential because if they aren't included they will go elsewhere, Sunnis are also an essential part ... and the INA are also very important," said Ali al Adeeb, a senior member of Dawa in a comment that alluded to the dream ticket. Some have seen Mr al Maliki's recent sectarian overtures and his tacit approval of the banning of hundreds of candidates with links to the Baath party as a sign of his political insecurity.

"In terms of alliances and overtures, it's important to remember that Maliki is a fierce centrist, but recently he seems to be backing off a bit," said Ranj Alaaldin, an Iraq specialist based at the London School of Economics. "He's hedging his bets. I think he's preparing for the worst." Even if State of Law wins the largest proportion of the vote, it is still possible it will be left out of the government if Mr al Maliki's rivals form a large enough alliance to block him.

Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the power vacuum during these months as political players slog it out to create a workable coalition could be a "real concern" for Iraq. "We saw it in 2005 and 2006 following the first elections when the country was basically adrift and almost spiralled into civil war." @Email:lmorris@thenational.ae