- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 25, 2010

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani formally renominated Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to his post Thursday, giving him 30 days to assemble a government.

“It will be a government of partnership,” Mr. al-Maliki, a Shiite who has been prime minister since 2006, said in a televised ceremony. “Nobody will be neglected.”

The long-awaited action helps imbed the democratic principle in the country that the U.S. invaded in 2003 and from which the U.S. is preparing to remove all of its troops by the end of 2011. U.S. combat troops were removed in August, even as Iraq’s major political players dickered over forming the next government.

Iraq’s political blocs reached a framework agreement this month, eight months after elections to decide the makeup of the 325-member Council of Representatives.

In the March 7 vote, Mr. al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition won 89 seats, while the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc — led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite — won 91.

The sectarian Iraqi National Alliance — a coalition of Shiite parties — won 70 seats, 40 of them belonging to the followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The main Kurdish alliance won 43 seats, and three smaller Kurdish parties gained 14.

The fragmented outcome set off months of high drama as Mr. al-Maliki and Mr. Allawi each staked claims to the prime minister’s post.

But the incumbent’s postelection alliance with his erstwhile partners in the Iraqi National Alliance, with whom he split before the vote — as well as the Sadrists’ recent acquiescence to his renomination — ultimately gave him the upper hand.

With the prime ministership out of reach, Mr. Allawi set his sights on the presidency, with the strong backing of the United States. As reported by The Washington Times, President Obama personally asked Mr. Talabani to step aside for the Iraqiya leader but was rebuffed. Another post — head of a new national strategic council — has been reserved for Mr. Allawi, but he has declined.

In an interview, Mr. Talabani’s son Qubad — the top U.S. representative for the Kurdistan Regional Government — defended his father’s retention of the presidency.

He said the Kurds, who numerically could have created a majority government with just Shiites, “held up the political process for much of those eight months to bring Iraqiya on board, but we weren’t going to bring them on board at our own expense.”

“A Kurd being president of Iraq has enormous symbolic impact on Iraq, on how Iraq views itself, and on how the world will view Iraq,” Mr. Talabani said.

“[It] sends the strongest message to the rest of the world that Kurds are interested in Iraq, and not just in Kurdistan, that we want to fix Iraq, and not just build up Kurdistan,” he said. “It should dispel any lingering fear of Kurdish secession, independence and conspiracies against the state of Iraq.”

Kurds, who are concentrated in northern Iraq, are estimated to make up roughly 20 percent of the Iraqi population. Under Saddam Hussein, they were completely locked out of governance and targeted for ethnic cleansing.

Mr. Talabani said that, like other Iraqi Kurds, he has struggled with dueling identities.

“If I am told that we can’t have a Kurd as president, then it makes it more difficult for me to accept the notion of Iraqi identity, and it starts to relabel Iraq as an Arab country,” he said.

Iraq is not an Arab country. Iraq is a multiethnic country, even if it has a predominantly Arab population. And a Kurdish president is essential for that issue of identity — at this stage. It need not be ad infinitum.”

In an interview with the Associated Press, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James F. Jeffrey said Mr. al-Maliki has “a long to-do list” over the next 30 days in selecting a broadly supported Cabinet that must be approved by the majority in parliament.

“He’s in a strong position,” Mr. Jeffrey said. “But it isn’t over until it’s over, and it’s essentially 325 members of the parliament that have the final say.”

Mr. Jeffrey and Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said they expect democracy to prevail, the AP reported.

“You will hear episodes of, witness episodes of people having doubt about the future in terms of democracy,” Gen. Austin said. “By the same token, you’ll witness a number of people who feel good about the prospects of democracy.”

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