Iraq Shi’ite cleric doubts front-runners in PM race

Last Updated: Monday, April 19, 2010 - 15:55

Baghdad: The leader of one of Iraq`s top Shi’ite political parties said on Monday he doubts either of the two election front-runners vying to become the country`s next prime minister has enough popular support to lead the new government.

In an interview, Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council leader Ammar al-Hakim was careful to say that he would not reject either candidate, if all sides currently jockeying for power in Iraq ultimately agree on one of them.

The coalition of former premier Ayad Allawi edged the group of incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with just two seats in the March 07 Parliamentary Elections.

Allawi`s Iraqiya got 91 seats, compared to al-Maliki`s State of Law with 89 in the 325-seat Parliament — far short of a majority to govern alone. The inconclusive vote set the stage for what could be months of wrangling before the next government is seated.

Although al-Hakim would not comment on who he thinks would be a better premier, he said he sees both candidates as having "difficulties" in being broadly accepted across Iraq, the Mideast and the rest of the world.

It was the strongest comments to date on the two front-runners from a player involved in the high-level negotiations.

"We are talking about a person who should be accepted on a national level," al-Hakim said in the interview at his palatial office in southeast Baghdad. "This is the most important point because the prime minister is not going to be a prime minister of his own party or his political movement, but for all of Iraq ... On such a basis, we find it`s difficult for Mr Maliki or even Mr Ayad Allawi to gain the needed acceptance."

Al-Hakim is an important figure in the post-election negotiations — his SIIC lost power in the March 7 vote in which it ran as part of the Iraqi National Alliance made up of Shi’ite religious parties including radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The INA bloc collected the third-largest number of seats in the election and is seen as key possible kingmaker in a future new coalition government.

"There are a lot of patriots and well known politicians, and this is why the choice is still open," al-Hakim added. "The most important thing is to look for the certain criteria that suits this position, and a person that could be accepted nationally, and regionally; internationally."

Al-Hakim would not predict how long it might take for Iraq`s six leading political coalitions to hammer out a compromise that would outline who will run the government.

Bureau Report



First Published: Monday, April 19, 2010 - 15:55

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