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IRAQ: Shias Head for Uncertain Govt

Analysis by Dahr Jamail

DOHA, Qatar, Feb 1 2006 (IPS) - Six weeks after parliamentary elections, occupied Iraq is still struggling for a viable government, as violence and instability worsen.

The results of the Dec. 15 elections have still to be finalised, 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.

Where 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 obtained 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.

After boycotting the Jan. 30 election of last year, the Sunni coalition, despite continuing to contest the election results, obtained 58 seats.

Former interim prime minister and CIA asset Iyad Allawi managed only 25 seats through his al-Iraqiyah list, a huge setback to the occupying powers’ plans for a secular Iraq.

This means that the dominating Shia alliance is pro-Tehran, 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 was attacked by a foreign power.

The largest Shia party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), has strong Iranian links.

In a strange twist of fate, this means that U.S. policy-makers are leaning now towards the more secular Sunni groups, some of which claim that Saddam Hussein was a secular Sunni.

U.S. officials like 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 decentralisation, 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 in order to counter plans for such federalism.

But the UIA is not a homogeneously pro-Iran group; it is wrought with internal strife. Nadim al-Jabiri who leads the Virtue Party within the group is angry, for example, at getting only one seat in parliament when he says he was promised five.

Now the possibility that Sadr followers and the Da’wa Party within the UIA could join forces would make them an effective counterweight to SCIRI, furthering fragmenting the bloc.

Disputes continue also over control of ministries. Sunnis continue to oppose Shia control of the Ministry of Interior. Sunni leaders say Shia militias, like the pro-Irani Badr Organisation, are regularly being used as death squads in Sunni areas of Baghdad and Fallujah.

“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.”

Shia leaders have said they will not surrender any ministry which controls Iraq’s security forces. Shias control also the defence ministry.

Adnan al-Duleimi, head of the Iraqi Accordance Front, which is the main Sunni bloc, has said the two ministries must not necessarily be headed by a Shia. “We believe that the posts of the interior and defence ministers should be kept away from any sectarian and political considerations.”

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