Sunni-backed Iraqi leader rejects government job

Ayad Allawi`s rejection for the govt job is in a step that could leave Sunnis further marginalized.

Updated: Mar 03, 2011, 18:08 PM IST

Baghdad: The former prime minister who led a political coalition heavily supported by Iraq`s minority Sunnis has turned down a position in the nation`s new government, spokeswomen said Thursday, in a step that could leave Sunnis further marginalized.

Ayad Allawi`s political bloc, Iraqiya, narrowly won the most seats in last year`s parliamentary election, but he was outmaneuvered by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who kept his job after drawn-out political negotiations. As a compromise to keep Allawi — and his Sunni supporters — in the political process, the US pushed for him to head a council that would serve as a check on al-Maliki`s powers.

Allawi has wavered on whether he would take the position as head of the National Council for Strategic Policies as both sides argued over how much power the body would have. If the decision announced Thursday holds, it would strengthen al-Maliki`s grip on power. It would also again risk alienating Sunni Arabs whose marginalization after the fall of their patron Saddam Hussein helped fuel the insurgency.

A spokeswoman for Allawi, Intisar Allawi, said Thursday that the former prime minister told his political allies during a meeting late Wednesday after returning from abroad that he would not head the council.

A spokeswoman for Iraqiya, Maysoun al-Damlouji, said that because there have been no developments on creating and empowering the council, Allawi thought that "...there is no point in chairing the council."

By stepping aside, Allawi also distances himself from political responsibility as Iraq goes through deepening anti-government protests over shoddy services and corruption.

Allawi is a secular Shiite who enjoys great support from Sunni Arabs in Iraq and abroad who view al-Maliki as a pawn of Shiite power Iran.

From the beginning, al-Maliki and Allawi supporters clashed on how powerful the council would really be. Allawi and Iraqiya wanted the council`s powers and his leadership of it to be voted on by parliament, fully funded and able to overrule al-Maliki`s decisions.

Al-Maliki supporters wanted it to be limited to an advisory position overseeing a body packed with representatives from all political groups, virtually ensuring it would not be able to come up with a uniform position on any political decisions.

An adviser to al-Maliki said the council was designed to satisfy Allawi and that his refusal to take it would not have much impact on the Iraqi political scene.

Meanwhile, the Baghdad mayor has become the latest Iraqi political figure to fall victim to anti-government protests sweeping the country. A government spokesman, Ali al-Moussawi, said Mayor Sabir al-Esawi submitted his resignation to al-Maliki on Thursday. He said the prime minister has not decided whether to accept it.

Thousands of people took to the streets last Friday in Baghdad and cities around the country in anti-government protests railing against corruption and shoddy public services. Two governors have already stepped down as a result of the protests, that were inspired by the demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia.

Al-Maliki has scrambled to show that he is responding to constituents` demands by sacking governors, delaying military purchases to buy food instead and cutting lawmakers` salaries.

Bureau Report