After Nearly Three Months, Iraq Finally Confirms Election Results

Nearly three months after the March 7 parliamentary elections Iraq’s federal court has ratified the results in a major step toward forming Iraq’s next government. But the appointment of the next cabinet and prime minister is likely weeks, if not months, away as political jockeying over Iraq’s top government jobs continue.

The U.S. Embassy in Iraq welcomed the certification. American officials have been concerned about the pace of the formation of the government, which coincides with a U.S. military drawdown to no more than 50,000 troops by the end of the summer. Since the election, the nation has plunged into a period of uncertainty and endured a series of bloody attacks that have killed hundreds in the midst of a political vacuum. The president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, must now ask parliament to convene its first session within 15 days. The law then stipulates that Parliament will choose a new president, who will name a prime minister. But everyone in Iraq expects a package deal, hence the period needed to negotiate everything from Parliament speaker to minister of youth and sports. “There are still long months ahead,” said Ghassan Attiya, an Iraqi analyst. (New York Times)

The court, led by Judge Midhat al-Mahmoud, the nation’s top jurist, on Tuesday certified all but two of the names, one from Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc and another from INA. But Mahmoud said any decisions on those two candidates would not affect the distribution of seats among the coalitions. “Based on the articles of the constitution we have decided to approve election results,” Mr. al-Mahmoud said. “The ratification is final,” he added. “There is no need for futher ratification from any side.” (Reuters)

The certification follows months of political upsets that many blame on Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s desire to keep his job, even though his coalition lost the popular vote to secular Shiite Ayad Allawi. Allawi, a former prime minister who leads a largely Sunni political bloc, says that, with the largest electoral bloc of 91 seats, he has the right to form the next government. The federal court rendered a decision that the largest bloc on the day the 325-member parliament convenes will be the first contender to appoint the prime minister and in turn his cabinet.

A spokesman for Allawi’s Iraqiya said it still plans to form the government. If it is shut out, Haider al-Mullah said it would be the “assassination” of the political process. (Washington Post)

It is unclear whether the ruling is binding, but Maliki’s tentative merger with the Shiite Iraqi National Alliance could mean that Allawi, most popular among Sunni Arabs and secular Iraqis, will not be able to form the next government.

Many Sunni and secular Iraqis are already angered by what they worry will be a Shiite-led government with a smattering of Sunni leaders in their midst to please the sizable Sunni Arab community. Ibrahim al-Mutlaq, a Sunni candidate who was purged for his supposed loyalties to Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath party, was reinstated by the court. Mutlaq’s brother Saleh al-Mutlaq, a legislator in Iraq’s last parliament and a member of Allawi’s bloc, was not reinstated. The move to reinstate Ibrahim al-Mutlaq may signal an olive branch as Maliki and his potential partners in the Shiite alliance try to woo Sunni leaders from Allawi’s bloc so their government is seen as inclusive. “The main hurdle was overcome and the only thing left is now to start forming the next government,” Ibrahim al-Mutlaq said by phone from Dubai. “Much time has been lost, almost three months, and during this time there has been a rise in violence and explosions, which should compel all sides to speed up the process.” (Washington Post) He added that “the Iraqi judiciary has proved its independence.” (New York Times)

Maliki is emerging as the most likely contender for Iraq’s top job, but he’s generated even more enemies in his quest to get more votes for his own bloc, which won 89 seats. A partial recount did not change the results. One of the candidates who has not been certified by the court is from his potential partner bloc, the Iraqi National Alliance, and the other from Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc. The commission vetoed both candidates and considered them viable for their seats, said Saad al-Rawi, an official at the commission. He said the commission did not know why the court had not certified the two men.

But the prime minister’s strength is in the lack of other viable Shiite contenders.

When the parliament convenes, it will have a road ahead filled with obstacles. In the first session, legislators are to appoint the speaker of the parliament and his two deputies. Following the 2005 election, the parliament convened but kept the session open for several weeks to give political blocs more time to agree on top positions in back-room deals, a tactic Iraqi officials said they probably will use again. Once the speaker and his deputies are appointed, legislators will elect a president, who has 15 days to give the nominee of the largest bloc in parliament the first chance to form a government. If that person fails, the president will ask someone else to try.

More than seven years after the invasion that ousted Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, Washington plans to end combat operations officially by September 1 and to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. The number of American forces is scheduled to shrink to about 50,000 by the end of August. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad welcomed the long-awaited certification by the Supreme Court. “This is an important step in the right direction as Iraq undertakes what will be a historic and peaceful transition of power from one elected government to another,” the embassy said in a statement. “With the election results officially certified, we call on Iraq’s political leaders to move forward without delay to form an inclusive and representative government to work on behalf of the Iraqi people.” (Reuters) The U.S. Embassy remained aware of the anger over the talks’ glacial pace and appealed to politicians to move forward quickly. “Now is the time for all political leaders to put the interests of the Iraqi people foremost in their negotiations over the makeup of the new government.” (New York Times)

Politicians, seemingly with varying degrees of sincerity, said the same. “It is important now to start serious and real talks between the political blocs to form the government,” said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker. “If any more delays happen, the responsibility will fall on the political blocs themselves.” (New York Times)

Many of Iraq’s most influential leaders – Mr. Maliki among them – were in Sulaimaniya where Mr. Talabani was presiding over a conference for his Kurdish party on Tuesday. Noticeably absent was Mr. Allawi, who has traveled abroad often during the crisis. He was in Lebanon on Tuesday when the judge announced the ratification.

Before the March election, most politicians had expected the negotiations over a new government to drag on for weeks and probably longer. But no one quite predicted the intensity of the dispute over the results themselves, testing the fragility of Iraq’s institutions.

Mr. Maliki’s list demanded a recount of votes after finishing narrowly behind Mr. Allawi’s list. A partial recount left those results largely unchanged. A committee of dubious legal standing disqualified candidates for ties to the Baath Party. Only after a shadowy deal did an appeals court overrule the decisions. Last month, a candidate in Mosul, Bashar Mohammad Hamid, was assassinated, and as late as last week, even more challenges were filed.

As a way to move forward, the court left the status of the two candidates pending; even if they end up being barred, they will be replaced by their own parties, leaving the overall numbers the same.

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