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What happens next in Iraq after Baghdad recount?

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What happens next in Iraq after Baghdad recount?

Post  Shilo on Sun May 16, 2010 11:27 am

May 16, 2010 · Posted in NEWS
SCENARIOS-What happens next in Iraq after Baghdad recount?
16 May 2010

BAGHDAD, May 16 (Reuters) – The end of a recount of votes in Baghdad opens the way for Iraq’s March 7 election results to be finally certified more than two months after the ballot, and for coalition-forming talks to begin in earnest.

It does not mean the pace of government formation will necessarily pick up, and the ingredients are still in place for a protracted political vacuum in which sectarian tensions could lead to violence as U.S. troops pack up and start to leave.

The sectarian warfare between once dominant Sunnis and majority Shi’ites that was kicked off after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion has subsided substantially since its peak in 2006/07.

But a string of attacks by a weakened yet still lethal Sunni Islamist insurgency since the ballot has fuelled fears of a slide back into broad bloodshed that could derail U.S. plans to end combat operations in August ahead of a full pullout in 2011.

The following is a glimpse into political negotiations thought to be taking place and a review of possible outcomes.

WHO GETS FIRST CHANCE TO FORM A GOVERNMENT

The recount left intact the two-seat election lead of the cross-sectarian Iraqiya list of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi over the predominantly Shi’ite State of Law bloc of incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

But Allawi’s chances of forming a government are slim, raising the prospect of anger among minority Sunnis who backed Iraqiya and who see its electoral success as a vindication of their claim to greater clout in post-invasion Iraq.

Instead, a Shi’ite mega tie-up announced between Maliki’s faction and the other main Shi’ite group, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), has the best chance. They are just four seats short of a governing majority in the new 325-seat parliament.

In theory, the president picked by the next parliament when it sits should give Allawi as the election winner the first shot at trying to form a government and 30 days in which to do so.

The supreme court, though, has already issued an opinion stating that right could also legally be granted to the single biggest bloc in the new parliament.

WHO IS TALKING TO WHOM

In the meantime, State of Law and the INA will be talking to the recently unified Kurdish bloc about what concessions will be needed to bring the Kurds’ 57 or so seats into the fold.

The Kurds want the presidency, a resumption in their oil exports, and commitments on disputed areas like Kirkuk, which the Kurds want wrapped into their semi-autonomous enclave.

Maliki’s envoys will also be talking to members of Iraqiya who might cross the floor if offered a suitably attractive deal, such as a ministry. It will be important to bestow a Sunni tint on an otherwise Shi’ite-Kurdish dominated government.

Among those who might be tempted to desert Allawi could be incumbent Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a prominent Sunni, or members of former Sunni lawmaker Saleh al-Mutlaq’s list.

Hashemi would bring with him around 9 seats while Mutlaq’s former National Dialogue Front could deliver at least 20. Mutlaq himself was barred from the election because of alleged links to Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath party.

Sunni politician Osama al-Nujaifi, who controls around half of Iraqiya’s 20-odd seats in the violent northern province of Nineveh, may also be willing to deal with State of Law and INA.

The inclusion of a large-enough Sunni bloc may defuse some of the outrage Sunnis will feel at Allawi being sidelined by the Shi’ite factions that have dominated Iraq since Saddam’s fall.

WHAT STILL STANDS IN THE WAY OF A SHI’ITE MEGA-MERGER

The pick of prime minister is a hurdle that could yet defeat the plans to create a Shi’ite mega-faction.

Maliki, the top vote winner in the March election, insists that he be returned to office for a second term.

But he is opposed by the movement of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which won 39 of INA’s 70 seats and dislikes Maliki for sending troops to crush Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia.

Maliki is viewed with disquiet within the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which has seen its former dominance of Shi’ite politics whittled away by Maliki’s growing stature.

In addition, the incumbent prime minister is thought to be viewed by Tehran as overly independent. Shi’ite power Iran has been an influential player in Iraq since its Shi’ite majority was propelled into political supremacy by the invasion.

Under the tie-up, State of Law and INA were to create a 14-person committee to decide on a prime ministerial nominee.

The formation of the panel has been stymied by disagreement within the INA as to who should be included in it, and by State of Law opposition to the INA side appointing too many Sadrists.

The committee, once formed, will have a week to endorse a prime minister unanimously. If it fails, it will then vote on a selection. The winning candidate will need 80 percent support. If that also fails, a new mechanism will have to be agreed.

HOW LONG

It could still take months to form a new government.

While the election results will most likely be certified by June, diplomats expect politicians to want a package deal on all remaining issues — prime minister, president and ministries — before the new parliament is allowed to hold its first session.

A popular estimate for a new government is August, just when U.S. troops levels are supposed to go down by half to 50,000.

SPIRAL OF VIOLENCE

When Iraq waited months for a government in 2006, sectarian bloodshed took hold. Some fear history could repeat itself.

But Iraq in 2010 is different to Iraq in 2006.

The 650,000-plus troops and police Iraq now has have proven to be relatively professional, while not flawless, and capable of battling both Sunni insurgents and Shi’ite militia.

Iraqis themselves are tired of war, and less inclined to turn a blind eye to or provide a safe haven for armed groups.

Iraq has also signed 10 deals with global oil firms that could turn it into the world’s No. 2 oil producer.

The allure of booming oil revenues may persuade many who might otherwise take up arms that it would be more profitable to join the government, than to fight it.

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LDE64E02O.htm
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