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National Unity Government Urged

Rivals of dominant Shia alliance issue demands for share of ministerial power.
By Yasin al-Rubai\'i
Leaders from several coalitions are pressuring the Shia United Iraqi Alliance, the largest party in parliament, to form a national unity government.



The alliance, which is expected to lead the new government, has many critics and rivals in parliament, including Kurdish, Sunni Arab, secular lists and even some of its own members.



The Shia coalition’s recent decision to pick incumbent prime minister Ibrahim al-Ja’afari as its candidate for premier in the new cabinet will not have gone down well with many of its detractors as his tenure has been associated with widespread violence and growing sectarianism.



The Fadhila Party, one of the less powerful parties in the United Iraqi Alliance, threatened to oppose Ja'afari's government if the coalition does not "stay away from sectarianism" and give ministerial posts to all of the political blocs that won seats in the new parliament. Iraqi president Jalal Talabani said his Kurdistan Alliance would boycott the government if it does not include a member of the opposition slate, the Iraqi National List, led by the former premier Ayad Allawi.



Iraqi law requires the president to offer the prime minister's job to the choice of the leading coalition in parliament. The government will be Iraq's first permanent government since Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003. It will hold power for four years.



"I stressed to the American ambassador the necessity of forming a national unity government in which no one will be excluded, especially the Iraqi [National] List," Talabani said after meeting US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad this week.



"The Iraqi List has to take part in the coming government. The Kurdish Alliance will not take part in the coming government unless the Iraqi List takes part in it."

In the December parliamentary elections, the United Iraqi Alliance won 128 seats out of 275, the Kurdistan Alliance 53, the Sunni Arab National Accord Front 44, and the Iraqi National List 25.



Ja'afari won the prime minister's nomination by just a single vote over vice president Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who was favoured by the less-powerful Shia parties such as Fadhila and the Islamic Revolution. The religiously conservative heavyweights in the United Iraqi Alliance - including Ja'afari's Dawa party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and politicians backing Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - supported Ja'afari's nomination.



A number of liberal secularist, Sunni Arab and Kurdish leaders opposed Ja'afari’s nomination as premier, and have expressed concern that the United Iraqi Alliance, which dominated the last government, will try to rule Iraq with minimal participation from other political groupings.



That scenario may prove impossible, however, as the new parliament is more diverse and includes Sunni Arabs who had boycotted Iraq's interim government which held power in 2005.



Khalaf al-Alyan, a leader of the National Accord Front, said, "We are one nation, one geography and one history. It’s totally necessary to have all national forces [parties and coalitions] participate in forming the government."



Adnan al-Pachachi, a member of the Iraqi National List, confirmed that his coalition has aligned with the Kurdistan Alliance and the National Accord Front and will fight for political power in the new government.



"We won't accept a government full of religious extremism and sectarianism," he said.



Sunni Arab representatives, who promised voters to end the US-led occupation, are jockeying for the interior or defence minister posts in order to have an influence over security. Sunni Arabs were held and tortured in a secret interior ministry jail last year, and the community’s leaders accused the government of launching military strikes against their areas under the guise of fighting insurgents.



But many in the Shia alliance believe that they have the right to distribute government posts based on how many votes the coalitions received.



"The lists that did well in the elections should respect the opinions of people who voted," said Abbas al-Bayati, a member of the United Iraqi Alliance.



A leading Iraqi political analyst, Mohammed al-Askari, said it may take 45 to 60 days to form a new government because of the political infighting. He argued that a national unity administration may not be best outcome because it will need a political opposition "to keep it in check".



"A national unity government forces everyone to participate, but then there isn't anyone who monitors or reveals its mistakes," he said. "No bloc is going to talk about the mistakes of a government it's a part of."



Yasin al-Rubai'i is an IWPR trainee journalist in Baghdad.