Leader of Bloc That Won Parliamentary Vote Says Iran is Meddling in Fractiouis Negotiations to Form a Government
By Margaret Coker
March 30, 2010
BAGHDAD—Ayad Allawi, leader of the bloc that won the most seats in Iraq’s parliamentary election, lashed out at Iran on Tuesday, accusing Tehran of interfering in the battle to form a new government in Baghdad.
Mr. Allawi’s cross-sectarian political bloc secured a narrow victory over Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated slate in the March 7 vote, potentially upending the lock on power that the country’s majority Shiites have had since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. But Mr. Allawi didn’t win a majority of seats in the 325-member parliament, and is battling the incumbent to lock in enough coalition partners to form a stable government.
Representatives from Mr. Maliki’s State of Law slate and from the two most influential parties inside a Shiite umbrella slate that finished third all recently visited Tehran at the same time. Iran has exerted significant political and economic power in Iraq since shortly after Mr. Hussein’s ouster, when Shiite Iraqis rose to power.
Many of the country’s dominant Shiite politicians sought shelter in Iran during years of exile from Mr. Hussein’s Iraq. Shiite parties have long acknowledged close ties to Iran, while insisting they aren’t beholden to Tehran. It isn’t clear whether the Iraqi politicians, who frequently travel to Iran, met with Iranian officials. But they did hold talks with each other, according to members of their parties. That has reignited a debate on the streets of Baghdad about how much influence Iran wields over domestic politics.
Moqtada Al Sadr, the anti-U.S. cleric who leads the largest party within the INA, has agreed to hold an internal party referendum among his followers about who they would like to see as next prime minister, according to his spokesman Sheikh Falah Al Obeidi. He didn’t say when the referendum would be held.
Before the vote, Iran pushed Shiite politicians to run in a grand alliance. Mr. Maliki decided instead to go it alone, and campaigned as a nonsectarian nationalist.
After the vote, however, Mr. Maliki made robust sectarian appeals to the main Shiite umbrella group, the Iraqi National Alliance. Together, the two lists would control 159 seats, just short of the 163 needed for a majority. Mr. Allawi’s bloc is also holding talks with the INA, and leaders within INA say it isn’t yet clear to whom they will give their support.
Mr. Allawi, for his part, has promised to restore Iraq’s traditional ties with Arab countries in the region, many of them foes of Iran. On Tuesday, Mr. Allawi told Iraqi television that any negotiations under way in Tehran were “shameful.” In a separate interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., he said it was “very clear” that Iran was trying to prevent him from becoming prime minister.
Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, expressed his concern Tuesday about the influence that Iran could have on the formation of a new government.
“I don’t think the Iraqi people would stand for a government that is not homemade,” Mr. Hill told reporters in a teleconference.
Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad met Tuesday with Iraq’s Sunni deputy prime minister, Rafea al Issawi, and denied that Iran was meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs, according to Iraqi television.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal over the weekend, Mr. Allawi said he desired good relations with Iran based on the significant trade ties that the two countries enjoy, as well as a policy of “non-interference” in each other’s domestic affairs.
“We cannot ignore the fact that we are neighbors. But we should be respectful neighbors,” Mr. Allawi said.