BAGHDAD: Iraq’s main Shia parliamentary bloc chose incumbent Nuri al-Maliki as its candidate for premier on Friday, possibly clearing the way for an end to the country’s seven-month political deadlock.
The announcement by the National Alliance (NA), which remains short of an absolute majority in the 325-member Council of Representatives, is the first sign of hope in months of a government forming after March 7 elections.
“The National Alliance has chosen Maliki as its candidate for the premiership,” coalition member Falah Fayadh said at a news conference. He said coalition members had voted “by consensus,” but did not elaborate.
Maliki’s State of Law Alliance finished second in the polls, two seats behind the Iraqiya bloc of ex-premier Iyad Allawi, but neither of them had the 163 seats needed to command a majority and form a government on its own.
In May, Maliki joined forces with the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), parliament’s third-biggest group, to form the National Alliance.
On-off internal NA talks dragged on for months, as members quarrelled over the selection of a candidate for premier. The INA wanted Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi as its choice, but Maliki eventually won out.
Given the 163 threshhold, NA falls four short with 159 seats. But that is only the case if the 27 seats are included of two blocs of the INA who have so far not taken part in the talks, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC) and Fadhila.
As a result, the NA requires 31 seats for a breakthrough. The question remains, however, of whether or not the NA will include Iraqiya, which drew most of its support from predominantly Sunni areas, in any coalition.
Analysts say Iraqiya must play a prominent role in the government, as Sunni anger and a boycott of the political process in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion helped fuel the country’s insurgency.
On Friday, Iraq tied the world record for the longest period without a government after elections, with its 208-day impasse matching the time it took for the Netherlands to name a prime minister after elections in 1977.
In 2006, Maliki took the reins of Iraq’s first permanent government after the 2003 ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein, and later won plaudits for his willingness to face down a Shia militia and set aside communal interests for a nationalist agenda.
But while violence has dropped dramatically since its peak in 2006 and 2007, something Maliki has been quick to take credit for, analysts note that much of the decline had to do with a strengthened US troop presence and the co-opting of Sunni tribal groups to fight Al-Qaeda.
The NA’s announcement on Friday came hours after officials said that 273 Iraqis died of attacks in September, fewer than any month since January, when 196 were killed.
The sharp decline in violence comes after July and August recorded two of the highest monthly tolls since 2008, shortly after a brutal sectarian war across the country left tens of thousands dead.
September marked the first month since the United States declared an official end to combat operations in Iraq, seven and a half years after it invaded the country to oust Saddam.
Meanwhile, violence in Baghdad and the restive northern city of Mosul on Friday killed five people, including a policeman and a soldier.
Friday’s deadliest attack saw three people killed, including two anti-Qaeda fighters, when a roadside bomb went off at a checkpoint manned by militiamen in the south Baghdad district of Dora, an interior ministry official said.
In Mosul, one policeman and a soldier were killed in separate incidents in the northern city, which remains one of Iraq’s least stable, Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed al-Juburi said. -AFP