Maliki Nominated for Iraqi Premiership by Shiite Bloc

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks during a press conference. Photographer: Safin Hamed /AFP/Getty Images

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki won the Shiite Muslim National Alliance’s nomination for the premiership, beating Adel Abdel Mahdi and moving Iraq a step closer to a new government after seven months of deadlock.

Alliance members nominated al-Maliki to retain the post by consensus, lawmaker Abdel Hadi al-Hasani, a member of his State of Law party, said today in an interview in Baghdad. Al-Maliki had the support of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Sadr Trend party, al-Hasani said. Al-Sadr’s militia was defeated in clashes with U.S. and Iraqi forces in the capital in 2008.

“We are beginning to see the kind of political horsetrading among the major blocs that received support in the election and we are hopeful that a government can be formed” that will represent all power blocs, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley told reporters in Washington today.

Talks on selecting the alliance candidate began in June, when the Shiite parties merged to form the largest bloc in parliament and get first crack at heading a government following the March 7 national elections, which failed to produce a clear winner. While today’s announcement represents progress toward the formation of a government, the alliance still faces hurdles.

The bloc needs four deputies to gain the 163 seats needed to form a government in the 325-member assembly. If it reaches that number and al-Maliki is named prime minister for another term by President Jalal Talabani and tasked with forming a Cabinet, negotiations over key posts will begin.

Spike in Violence

Brigadier General Rob Baker, the top U.S. commander for Baghdad, said the political impasse has led to a spike in violence and pushed frustrated citizens to hold back information on suspected militants, the Associated Press reported Sept. 29. He said Sunni Muslim insurgents have stepped up attacks in an attempt to discredit Shiite-led authorities.

Al-Maliki’s State of Law party garnered 89 seats in the elections, two fewer than former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyah bloc, which had Sunni Muslim and secular backing. The Iraqi National Alliance took 70 seats and an alliance of Kurdish parties took 43.

Allawi also claims the right to lead the new government, having won the most seats. He has said he won’t participate in any government headed by al-Maliki. Allawi’s support of the new government is seen as crucial to national unity.

The National Alliance’s so-called Wise Men Committee of 14 members decided this week to hold an internal ballot to choose between al-Maliki and Abdel Mahdi, one of two vice presidents.

Main Components

State of Law, al-Sadr’s Sadr Trend and Abdel Mahdi’s Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council are the three main components of the National Alliance.

Abdel Mahdi’s and al-Sadr’s parties are also part of the similarly named Iraqi National Alliance, which opposed al-Maliki’s decision to seek a second term. It wasn’t immediately clear what concessions they may have won from al-Maliki in return for their support. Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper cited unidentified officials as saying al-Sadr had bowed to pressure from neighboring Iran, which is led by Shiite clerics.

This is the second time Abdel Mahdi lost out to al-Maliki. He was touted as a contender for the post in the previous elections in 2005, yet failed to secure al-Sadr’s backing.