After Iraq's Election, Will Power-Sharing Be Possible?
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Iraq is headed for a post-election political deadlock that could lead to security problems and deepen sectarian rifts, politicians and analysts say.
The Iraqi constitution states that a new government should be formed within a month of election results being certified. But the usual delays caused by parties horse-trading over the creation of a ruling coalition will be exacerbated this time around because there is likely to be good deal of protracted deal-making over the appointment of a president who, unlike in the past, will have substantial power.
Some politicians and analysts worry that the power vacuum could be exploited by extremists.
"Al-Qaeda looks for any opening to commit attacks," Adil Barwari, a member of the security and defense parliamentary committee, said. "The post-election period is a perfect time for them. There will be a political vacuum, but hopefully not a security one, because the government and especially security ministries are tasked with handling security until the formation of the new government."
The United States has pushed for a new government to be formed as soon as possible, and American military officials warned this week that attacks could escalate if political horse-trading stalls progress. U.S. commanders have also hinted in recent weeks that combat forces might remain in Iraq past the August 2010 withdrawal date if the elections are followed by bloodshed, as in 2005.
"If al-Qaeda commits attacks this time, then it is up to the next government to decide whether it is necessary to ask American troops to stay and delay the withdrawal plan or not," Barwarai said. "It also depends on the next political blocs in the parliament and their strategies and views. This is not just a security decision, it is also a political one."
Because no one party is expected to win the 163 seats in Iraq's 325-seat parliament needed to form a government, a complex process of deal-making and coalition-building will precede the selection of a prime minister and the approval of a cabinet.
"I am sure forming the new government will take months," Azad Chalak, a member of the Iraqi parliament's integrity committee, said. "The reason is the mistrust between Iraqi politicians. It will be very difficult for the new government to get a vote of confidence in the next Iraqi parliament.
"Even a Shia-led government cannot get through parliament easily. Before they were united, but now they have different, separate lists, and it's the same with the Kurds and Sunnis.
"Any delays in forming a government after the poll [will] make the problems of Iraqis worse. The threat of attacks is one thing, but Iraq also badly needs services and investment. Actually, the country cannot bear deadlock again."
The government formation process will be furthered complicated with the end of the so-called transitional phase of Iraq's constitution, which will expire after the March 7 election. The 2004 charter, approved overwhelmingly in a 2005 referendum, provided for a three-person presidential council as a means of stabilising Iraq's ethno-sectarian disputes until 2010.
There was an unofficial agreement that the council -- which had the power to send new legislation back to parliament up to three times before its passed -- would consist of one Shia, one Sunni and one Kurd.
But this council will be dissolved after the March 7th election. In the future, there will still be one president and two vice-presidents, but the three will no longer make decisions by consensus. The president will assume the powers of the council.
The president and his deputies will be elected separately by parliament with a 50 percent-plus-one majority of parliamentary votes, instead of two-thirds as was required in the past.
The removal of this supermajority approval was meant to make the election of these officials easier and hence speed up the formation of a new leadership.
But there's likely to be even more protracted negotiation over the post of president than in the past because it will have more power, with Shia, Sunni and Kurdish politicians all vying to make sure that one of their own is appointed.
"The single presidency will create more problems," said Sami Atrushi, member of the Iraqi parliament's legal affairs committee, who believes the transitional phase is still needed to maintain stability. "The Sunnis and Kurds have started a fierce campaign to try to secure this position before the election. I worry about what will happen after the poll."
Forming a new government took almost five months following the 2005 elections, and some experts believe that this new political framework will not prevent similar months of confusion and delay.
"I am not optimistic about forming government in one month as hoped for by the constitution," said Atrushi. "This time many coalitions are after the prime minister position, so it is not easy to form government and maintain the relations of the different communities as well. I believe we will see a political crisis after the poll. In fact, this change [to the presidential council] may make sectarian and ethnic problems worse."