Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Iraq: More trouble brews as new government takes shape

DOHA, Qatar (IPS/GIN) - Six weeks after parliamentary elections, occupied Iraq is still struggling to establish a viable government amid increasing violence and instability.
The results of the Dec. 15 elections have still to be finalized, but it is clear that the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), a Shia fundamentalist coalition, won at least 128 seats in the 275-seat national assembly. Since 138 seats are required for a simple majority, the powerful group will still have to cut deals with Kurdish or Sunni alliances to form a government.
The Kurdish Alliance won 53 seats. The Turkmen—who claim to represent at least 11 percent of the population of the oil-rich but volatile northern city Kirkuk—are angry that they failed to obtain even one seat in the new parliament. The Turkmen, like the Sunnis around Baghdad, allege widespread election fraud. The Sunni coalition, which boycotted the Jan. 30 election last year and continues to contest the latest election results, won 58 seats.
Former interim prime minister and alleged CIA asset Iyad Allawi managed only 25 seats through his al-Iraqiyah slate, a huge setback to the occupying powers’ plans for a secular Iraq. This means that the government will be dominated by a pro-Tehran Shia alliance, and that Iranian influence will continue to grow in Iraq. On a recent visit to Iran, Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr declared that his Mehdi Army and millions of followers would fight for Iran if it were to be attacked by a foreign power.
In a strange twist of fate, this means that U.S. policymakers are leaning now toward the more secular Sunni groups, some of which claim that Saddam Hussein was a secular Sunni.
U.S. officials, including Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, have been accused by Shia groups of “reaching out” to Sunni Arabs in an effort to counter the growing resistance in Iraq, and in efforts to promote a unified government. Shia leaders see this as an attempt to undermine their power.
“The Americans are so focused on Sunni interests that their motivation goes beyond just promoting national unity,” a UIA spokesman said.
Federalism, which in effect would mean decentralization, with more powers to a Shia south and a Kurd north, has emerged as a major sticking point in any consensus. Sunni and Shia leaders have clearly conflicting views on this. Sunni political groups fear that federalism will lead the Kurds and Shias to split Iraq into three parts. The Kurdish north and the predominantly Shia south are the main oil-producing regions of the country.
Sunni Arab leaders oppose either regional confederacies or federalism. They are attempting to form political blocs with secular Shia and Kurdish groups to counter plans for such federalism.
Disputes continue also over control of ministries. Sunnis continue to oppose Shia control of the Ministry of Interior. Sunni leaders say Shia militias are regularly being used as death squads in Sunni areas of Baghdad and Fallujah. Shia leaders have said they will not surrender any ministry that controls Iraq’s security forces. Shias also control the defense ministry.
“This will be one of the hottest issues,” Sunni leader Hussein al-Falluji said. “We will press this in the negotiations, and if the Shias are not flexible on this, it will be a problem.”