Friday, March 26, 2010

Does Allawi party win signal return of normalcy to Iraq?

Bombastic rhetoric aside, the victory by secularist Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc in last month's election, announced today in Baghdad, could be a sign that the war-torn country's halting moves toward Western-style democracy are finally showing some success. Allawi, the prime minister in 2004-5 at the height of the U.S. occupation, and his Iraqiya bloc took 91 seats in Iraq's 325-seat parliament, according to the Reuters international news service. Allawi's bloc, made up of more than 40 political parties, received millions of votes from Sunni Muslims alienated from the Shiite governments that have been in power in Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Shiite Prime Minister's Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law bloc took 89 seats but was rumored to be in negotiations with the controversial Iraqi National Alliance (INA) to form a coalition. The INA's 70 seats would give that coalition a near-majority in parliament, but would likely bring into the government anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army fought fierce battles with U.S. troops during the invasion. In brief remarks following the announcement, Allawi said he was extending "hands and heart" to all groups in Iraq. "For all who want and wish to participate in building Iraq, we will together bury political sectarianism and political regionalism," he said. But don't expect Maliki to leave office without a fight -- hopefully, a rhetorical one. "For sure, we will not accept these results," Maliki told a news conference after the announcement. More helpful remarks would have been, well, more helpful. If the 2005 exercise in coalition building is any indication, the process of forming a new government in Baghdad could take months. If it takes any longer, it could complicate the planned withdrawal of remaining U.S. forces in Iraq in 2011.

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