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Unlikely Sunni-Shia-Secular Opposition Bloc Mooted

They plan to form a grand opposition alliance and may seek to bring down the government.
By Zaineb Naji
The Sunni-led Iraqi Accord Front is considering joining a proposed opposition alliance that could include members of parliament loyal to the firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The Accord Front and the Sadirists are discussing whether to line up with the Shia-led Fadhila Party and former prime minister Ayad Allawi's largely secular Iraqia bloc, Salim Abdullah of the Iraqi Accord Front told IWPR.

The Accord Front, the Sadrists and Iraqia are in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government. The former two are constantly threatening to leave, while the latter continually expresses its frustration with Maliki’s leadership. Fadhila, meanwhile, pulled out of the United Iraqi Alliance, the dominant Shia coalition in parliament, several months ago.

The proposed new opposition alliance may consider bringing down the government with a no-confidence vote or calling for the replacement of certain ministers, said Abdullah.

Analysts, however, say the alliance might not be big enough to bring such vote and its composition means that it could be subject to internal conflicts.

A Sunni-Shia-secular bloc may seem like an unlikely alliance considering that Sunni militias and Sadr's Mahdi Army are accused of involvement in much of the sectarian violence.

But the parties share many of the same positions, including opposition to the oil law and support for a strong central government and opposition to a devolved federalist system. They are also highly critical of Maliki's government, which is also trying to form a broader coalition, trumpeted as a moderate bloc of Shia, Kurdish and possibly Sunni parties.

All coalitions are currently scrambling to form new multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian alliances in order to gain legitimacy, particularly amongst Sunni voters and some Sunni militias who believe that their community is being politically marginalised.

"Changes need to occur," said Bahaa al-A'araji, an MP with the Sadr bloc. "The government is weak and the Iraqi people are suffering as a result."

Sunni parties, particularly the Iraqi Islamic Party led by vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi, accuse Maliki of not consulting his cabinet, especially its Sunni members who hold five seats and the vice-presidency.

"We're ignored in many strategic decisions," said Abdullah.

They also claim the government has not done enough to get rid of militias or promote national unity.

Sadr does not have an official political party but has 30 loyalists in parliament who currently belong to the United Iraqi Alliance.

Sadrists rejoined the government last week, ending a months-long boycott. But they remain hostile to Maliki's administration, which has cooperated with US forces to fight the Mahdi Army militia.

Sunni political leaders are crucial to any new opposition alliance because major political decisions need Sunni support. Without it, the cause of Sunni insurgents is only strengthened.

The grand opposition alliance would have 124 of the parliament's 275 votes, which would be a substantial opposition bloc for legislative decisions but would not be enough for the two-thirds vote needed to pass a no-confidence vote in the government.

The United Iraqi Alliance alliance, meanwhile, is also courting the Iraqi Islamic Party, a member of the Iraqi National Accord, to join its self-proclaimed moderate front. This new alliance would also include the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Maliki's Da'wa Party and the Kurdish political alliance.

"The Sunni presence in this coalition is needed to form a national moderate Iraqi alliance," said Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman.

Abbas al-Bayati, a member of the United Iraqi Alliance, said that "all of the signs are indicating that the Iraqi Islamic Party will be part of [Maliki's] bloc".

He predicted that the opposition coalition would be weak. "Anything is possible, but in my opinion the security situation in Iraq will not be solved by forming this alliance," said Bayati. "This alliance is not going to influence legislation like the oil law and reduce political tensions."

Mohammed al-Askari, a political analyst, suggested that even if the proposed opposition alliance had enough votes to bring a no-confidence vote, the Sadrists and Sunni leaders recognise that it would be hard to overthrow an administration which draws such strong support from the Americans.

He said US President George Bush apparently gave Maliki the green light for a moderate bloc and argued that it would more viable than the proposed new opposition alliance.

"[Maliki’s] bloc would be a strong alliance inside the parliament and would be effective for [passing] legislation," said al-Askari.

Zaineb Naji is an IWPR reporter in Baghdad.

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