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Talks fail between leading Iraqi parties

BAGHDAD — A potential deal to form a grand coalition between the biggest vote getters in Iraq’s national elections is dead, according to a prominent politician involved in the negotiations.

Hassan al-Alawi, a member of the secular Iraqiya list, said his efforts to bring together Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite list and his own list, headed by Ayad Allawi, will never come to fruition.

“Not now and not ever, because the Shia and Kurdish parties will not allow it,” he said.

More than three months after Iraqis went to the polls and gave Iraqiya a narrow plurality over al-Maliki’s State of Law list, neither party has succeeded in securing enough parliament seats to form a government. Formation of a government appears to be weeks away, at best.

There was hope for a grand alliance after al-Alawi brokered a recent meeting between Allawi and al-Maliki, reportedly the first time the two men had spoken in years. Al-Alawi now says it was little more than a photo opportunity.

Al-Maliki’s group has courted religious Shiite parties heavily influenced by Iran and the Kurdish block. Some of those parties have militias accused of running death squads during Iraq’s sectarian civil war, and some worry that if he succeeds in forming a mostly Shiite government, sectarianism will become further entrenched in Iraqi politics.

A State of Law victory also may alienate Sunnis, who overwhelmingly voted for the Iraqiya list and now feel al-Maliki is working to nullify their votes. For the U.S., with troops scheduled to pull out completely at the end of 2011, it would be another indicator of the influence that Iran, a Shiite theocracy, has gained in Iraq at the expense of waning American clout.

Hajim al-Hassani, a member of parliament elected on the State of Law ticket, confirmed that negotiations between his party and members of Shiite parties, including a bloc loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, are far enough along that the various parties will soon submit their choices for prime minister.

“This is the final thing. We will be the biggest bloc and we’ve sent documents saying we are united,” he said. “We are the ones who will form the government.”

Picking a prime minister could fuel a rancorous debate, though. Many members of the smaller Shiite parties that al-Maliki is counting on to form his coalition despise him for crushing Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, and some have demanded that al-Maliki step down in favor of a compromise candidate. But al-Maliki has held firm, and Iraqi political watchers say Iran is leaning on the Sadrists and members of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council to accept al-Maliki as prime minister.

In the opaque politics of Iraq, with myriad backroom dealings, nothing is assured. Indeed, al-Hassani added a long caveat to his statement that State of Law won’t form a government with Iraqiya.

“Nobody can guess the politician’s situation,” he said. “There are always surprises. I can’t tell you that it (negotiations with Iraqiya) is dead. We are far from each other but maybe we can come together another time.”

As the parties dither ever longer without an agreement, anger is rising in the streets. Across religious and ethnic lines, Iraqis see their government as weak, corrupt, and painfully out of touch with everyday life in the country. While most politicians live behind high-walled mansions in safe neighborhoods, with personal security and reliable electricity, regular Iraqis still often lack the basics.

The minister of electricity, Karim Wahid, resigned Monday following demonstrations by hundreds of people in Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq, over power shortages.

Even in the capital, power is still on for only a few hours a day in the searing summer heat, garbage fills the streets and basic services are dysfunctional at best. That’s to say nothing of the insurgent bombs and spiraling violent crime that still plague the city.

“There is no democracy in Iraq,” said Adnan, a security manager at a Baghdad amusement park who gave only his first name out of fear of possible repercussions. “All the politicians are thieves.”

druzinh@estripes.osd.mil

Yasir Ghazi contributed to this story.
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