BAGHDAD – The leader of the top vote-getting coalition in Iraq's inconclusive March 7 elections insisted his bloc still has the right to form the next government despite an alliance forged this week between two rival Shiite groups.
The alliance makes the Shiites the largest political bloc in parliament, setting the stage for outmaneuvering the election win of Ayad Allawi's cross-sectarian Iraqiya party. Strong Sunni support helped his bloc eke out a slim lead in the balloting in which no group won an outright majority in the 325-seat parliament.
But as top vote getter, Allawi, a former prime minister, said he should have gotten the first stab at forming the next government and he was determined to stake his claim.
Allawi's case, however, received a blow on Thursday when the Kurdish coalition, which with 43 seats would be necessary to form any new government, indicated they would be happy to ally with the Shiites as they have done in the past.
"We have allied with them when we were in opposition and in the new Iraq," Ruznouri Sahawis, the Kurdish deputy prime minister, said after a meeting with the influential Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani Thursday.
Allawi returned to Iraq late Thursday after spending most of the past two months touring the Mideast to lobby regional leaders for support.
"The Iraqiya list is still sticking to its electoral and constitutional right and it is keen to communicate with other groups," Allawi said at a joint press conference televised Thursday night with other party heads.
Iraq's conservative Shiite parties, including incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition, put aside their rivalry on Tuesday and formed a bloc of 159 seats, just four shy of a majority and began talks with other parties to form a new government, squeezing out Allawi's Sunni-backed list.
Shiite politicians have left open the possibility that Iraqiya could join new broad based government.
Allawi associate Rafia al-Issawi, however, warned there could be consequences if Iraqiya was not allowed a chance to form a government.
"There is a big difference between a government that would include Iraqiya and authorizing Iraqiya to form this government," he said at the same press conference with Allawi. "We are dealing with a constitutional right and if it is ignored, then there will be a problem in the political process."
Shortly before election results were announced, al-Maliki obtained a supreme court decision saying the largest bloc formed after the election could also get the first chance to form a government — raising accusations that Allawi was being cheated out of his win.
Iraq has made little progress toward forming a government since the March elections, and for the past two months, various factions have engaged in talks over potential alliances. The protracted wrangling comes as U.S. troops are set to drop by nearly half by Sept. 1.
There are also fears that sidelining Allawi's list could alienate the once-dominant Sunnis and lead to renewed unrest.