Iraq’s political parties are moving into high gear looking for partners to run with in the January 2010 parliamentary elections. Some old alliances are being reformed, and new ones are in the process of forming. As before, however, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is at the center of things, and most organizations are thinking in terms of what to do in relation to him.
There are two main groups of Sunni politicians. First are the provincial parties that want to gain seats in Baghdad. Anbar’s sheikhs are one such group that has recently emerged. What was once the Anbar Awakening has now split into three main parties led by three leading sheikhs. There is the Anbar Awakening Council led by Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, the Anbar Salvation Council of Sheikh Hamid al-Hayes, and Sheikh Hatim al-Suleiman’s Anbar Salvation National Front. After participating in the 2009 provincial elections, all three are now looking for national office. Sheikh Hayes has joined the new Shiite led National Alliance. Sheikh Suleiman has aligned himself with the Banners of Iraq list that includes Karbala’s Yousef al-Habboubi, who won the most votes there in 2009, but only got one seat, because he ran alone. Abu Risha, on the other hand is in negotiations with Maliki. All three are thus seeking ties with Shiites to ensure a better chance of victory.
Ninewa’s ruling al-Hadbaa is another new party. They came to power running on an anti-Kurdish, Iraqi nationalist platform, that also promised better services. They are now planning on running in the national elections as well in Ninewa, Salahaddin, Anbar, Baghdad, Wasit, Diyala, and Tamim. All of those have large Sunni populations, and three of them have disputed territories between Kurdistan and the central government, however Wasit is the exception since it is a majority Shiite province. Prime Minister Maliki could also reach out them since they have many similar ideas.
The other group is made up of Sunni politicians already in power in Baghdad. These include parliamentarian Saleh al-Mutlaq, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, and the Iraqi Islamic Party and its Accordance Front list. Mutlaq recently had discussions with Maliki, but decided to run with former Prime Minister Ilyad Allawi instead. This repeats a similar set of negotiations after the 2009 elections when Maliki and Mutlaq flirted with forming ruling coalitions in a few provinces, but nothing came of it. The Islamic Party and Accordance Front are in disarray. In May 2009 Hashemi stepped down as the head of the Islamic Party, and is now talking about running on his own in the new Renewal List. The Islamic Party on the other hand wants to recreate the Accordance Front by trying to bring back the parties that left it. In 2008 the Accordance Front faced a series of defections that reduced it to only the Islamic Party and parliamentarian Adnan Dulaimi’s party. The Islamic Party is also said to be talking to Mutlaq, Allawi, al-Hadbaa, the Iraqi Scholars, some of the Anbar tribes, and Interior Minister Jawad Bolani’s Constitution Party. There are reportedly few willing to work with the Islamic Party however, which has members leaving, seen its Accordance Front collapse, and is considered a sectarian party of the past. If true, the other Sunni parties may surpass them.
The new coalition of Saleh al-Mutlaq and Ilyad Allawi could be called the neo-Baathists. They appeal to many Sunnis of the former regime, and preach Iraqi nationalism and secularism. Interior Minister Jawad Bolani, who is an independent Shiite was supposed to run with them, but he may join the Shiite National Alliance instead. Allawi still has an outside chance of becoming prime minister as well.
On the Shiite side, there are two main coalitions running in opposition to each other. First is the new Iraqi National Alliance. This is a revived version of the United Iraqi Alliance that won the most seats in parliament in the 2005 elections. The new Alliance is made up of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), the Sadrists, former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s National Reform Party, the Dawa-Iraq Party, and two Sunnis, Sheikh Hayes of Anbar and Khalid Abd al-Wahaab al-Mulla from Basra. The coalition was pushed hard by Tehran, but faced a major setback when the Supreme Council’s leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim passed. That has left a leadership vacuum. Hakim’s son Ammar succeeded him as head of the SIIC, but he doesn’t have the same standing. Jaafari, Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, and perhaps Interior Minister Bolani may all emerge as its candidate for prime minister, but all those names alone show that it may be rudderless. The new alliance, despite the inclusion of two Sunni figures, is also seen as sectarian, since being Shiite is the only thing that really unites these parties that disagree on just about everything. The one issue that does bring them together is their opposition to Maliki.
Prime Minister Maliki’s State of Law is the other major list. Unlike the National Alliance, Maliki is running on a nationalist agenda, and stressing cross-sectarian ties. That didn’t stop the Prime Minister from seriously consider running with them however, but their refusal to assure him of being their only candidate for prime minister ended those talks. Maliki is now scrambling to find new allies. Former speaker of parliament Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who was once part of the Accordance Front, was the first to formally announce he would run with the Prime Minister. Mashhadani brings with him some former members of the Basra based Fadhila party. As stated before, Sheikh Abu Risha of Anbar is also in talks with the State of Law. Other possible deals might be made with al-Hadbaa, the Islamic Party, and perhaps even the League of the Righteous, an Iranian-backed Special Group that has recently announced that it wants to join the political process.
Maliki’s greatest problem however, is not so much who he will run with but how he’s currently governing. His claim of securing the country have been shaken by the August 2009 bombings, and he has been unable to deliver better services with the large budget cuts Iraq is experiencing. He still has one ace up his sleeve the referendum on the Status of Forces Agreement with the Americans, which he is pushing to coincide with the 2010 vote. That could distract the Iraqi public from domestic issues.
The two ruling Kurdish parties the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) have said that they will run together in 2010. At the same time, they have rejected any ideas of running with others. They still have a very close alliance with the Supreme Council however, so after the vote it’s likely that they will join together to try to put together a ruling coalition to elect a new prime minister. Both are actively opposed to Maliki as well. A new twist to Kurdish politics is the fact that the new Change Party has also announced that it will run in the national elections. The PUK and KDP still have a solid base, but the new Change List will cut into their monopoly on the Kurdish vote as they did in the recent Kurdish regional vote. Maliki may also make a run at convincing the Change List to run with him.
Iraqi politics are in a period of flux. In 2005 the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds ran in three large coalitions, and took in the majority of votes. Now all three of those groups are fragmenting. On the other hand, Iraqi Arabs at least, are moving away from sectarian politics. The Sunnis are seeing the greatest change with the Accordance Front disintegrating, and new parties and politicians emerging. The PUK and KDP are facing a new challenge from the Change List, while Prime Minister Maliki has broken with the other Shiite parties. The major question now is who else will Maliki align himself with, and will that give him enough votes to remain prime minister? On the other hand, will the National Alliance, PUK, and KDP be able to stop him? The real battle for power then, is likely to play out after the election in the backroom deals to form coalitions rather than the pre-voting negotiations over who will run with whom.
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