Fears grow in Iraq that Allawi will be excluded
The Boston Globe
By Leila Fadel, Washington Post

BAGHDAD — Ayad Allawi had hoped his political coalition’s strong showing in Iraq’s parliamentary election would propel him to the job of prime minister. But after more than eight months of acrimonious negotiations, the secular Shi’ite lost his fight – and is now the greatest uncertainty as incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moves forward with forming a new government.

In a nation divided along sectarian and ethnic lines, Allawi became a symbol of secularists and the Sunni Arab minority. The possibility that he may not participate leaves many US officials – who advocated a power-sharing arrangement among Maliki, Allawi, and others – worried that the government that stands at the end of 2011, when US troops are scheduled to leave, could be seen as illegitimate, worsening a fragile security situation.

Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc won 91 seats in the March 7 vote, two more than Maliki’s State of Law bloc but not enough to claim majority support in the 325-member Parliament.

“Maliki knows very well that without me personally in this process it will be very hard for regional and democracy-loving countries to buy in,” Allawi said as he ate lunch at his kitchen table one recent afternoon. “If he doesn’t accept real power sharing, we have to say goodbye to democracy forever and we have to think about other means, peaceful means, to alter decisions.”

Allawi’s family is in London, and his home in western Baghdad is largely empty, save for the maids who take care of the cooking and cleaning. Blast walls surround the area and military Humvees are parked outside; he has received death threats and warnings from US officials that someone might try to kill him, his aides said.

A poll conducted over the summer by the International Republican Institute, a nonprofit organization funded by the US government, showed that 56 percent of the nation would not see the Iraqi government as fully legitimate if Allawi did not participate.

Only 31 percent thought it would be “legitimate” or “somewhat legitimate,” according to the poll. A poll by the National Democratic Institute, another US nonprofit, showed that Allawi had more appeal across political lines than Maliki and other leading politicians.

“We’re very, very interested in all of the key major players here having important roles,” James Jeffrey, US ambassador to Iraq, told reporters at a briefing last month. “Ayad is one of the more important ones based upon our work with him and based upon his electoral success.”

Allawi, prime minister during Iraq’s interim government in 2004 and 2005, became a symbol of change in the lead-up to this year’s vote.

Sunni Arabs who felt marginalized by the process hoped he would end religious Shi’ite majority rule.

Secular Iraqis hoped he would break years of sectarian politics that have plagued them since the US invasion in 2003.

But Allawi also unwittingly became a symbol of the return of Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Sunni Arab Ba’ath party, despite breaking ranks with Saddam more than 30 years ago and working against the brutal dictator for decades.

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