Thursday, March 18, 2010

Are Iraq’s Neighbors Promoting Allawi As Prime Minister?

The Iraqi paper Wasat reported that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently sent a delegation to Tehran to gain support for his re-election as prime minister. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad however, allegedly told the Iranians that they, along with Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, are opposed to Maliki returning as the head of state, and that if Tehran decided to back him, that would harm relations with Damascus. All of those Sunni run governments are supposedly supporting Iyad Allawi to become the next prime minister. The Roads To Iraq blog claimed that the Saudis have told Allawi that he needs to make whatever deals necessary to form a ruling coalition, even if that means compromising on Kirkuk or giving Maliki a high position within the new government. As a reward, the Saudis would open full diplomatic relations with Baghdad, which have been frozen since the 2003 invasion. A member of the Iraqi National Alliance also said that Iran might not be opposed to Allawi becoming prime minister as long as he has good relations with Tehran. Back on February 24, 2010 Alsumaria TV ran a story saying that Iran and Syria had agreed to back Allawi, and that he held secret meetings in Teheran to discuss the matter. 

While these are all rumors for now, what is known is that before the March 2010 elections, Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement actively sought the support of Sunni governments from around the region. For example, in December Allawi traveled to Damascus where he met with President Assad. He also took trips to Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Lebanon, the UAE, and a high profile meeting with the king of Saudi Arabia and the head of its intelligence agency. Right before the vote, Allawi had a conference with the Turkish president and prime minister and President Assad again, while his running mate Vice President Tariq Hashemi went to Jordan and Syria as well. The conventional wisdom is that all of these regional powers are positioning themselves for the pending U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. They want a government that they can be friendly with, were largely opposed to Shiite rule after the overthrow of Saddam, and want to counter Iranian influence in Baghdad. Allawi offers them all of these. He promised to strengthen Iraq’s ties with the Arab world, most of his National Movement is Sunni, and he has opposed Iranian interference in Iraq.

All of Iraq’s neighbors with the exception of Iran, lost standing in Iraq as a result of the U.S. invasion. Turkey was afraid of the Kurds’ new role and what that would mean for their own Kurdish minority, while Syria and the Saudis actively supported the insurgency. Iran on the other hand saw Shiites take power led by their friends the Supreme Council and the Dawa Party. Now that the Americans are leaving they are all trying to stake out their position within Iraq, and this is playing out in the country’s election. The question seems to be whether the Arab and Turkish governments can convince Iran to not object to Allawi, otherwise Tehran may be able to sabotage negotiations for a new ruling coalition using their allies in the major Shiite parties.

SOURCES

Agence France Presse, “Iraq says it wants better Syrian ties,” 3/2/10

Alsumaria, “Iran and Syria to support Allawi as Iraq PM,” 2/24/10

Aswat al-Iraq, “Syrian President meets Iyad Allawi,” 12/21/09
- “Talks with Gul, Erdogan constructive, useful – Allawi,” 2/27/10

DPA, “Syria’s al-Assad meets Iraqi elections challenger as voting starts,” 3/4/10

Jawad, Saad, “More foreign than domestic interest,” Media Monitors Network, 2/27/10

Kenner, David, “Iraq At Eye Level,” Foreign Policy, 3/8/10

Mashkour, Salem, “Iraqi Elections and Prospective Government Scenarios,” Arab Reform Bulletin, 3/3/10

Al-Qabas, Al-Watan, Baghdad Times, Al-Hayat, Al-Zaman, “Iraq Votes – Part IV,” MEMRI Blog, 3/11/10

Roads To Iraq, “Allawi and Maliki reached an agreement, Saudi Arabia asked Allawi to accept any deal,” 3/17/10

Al-Saheil, Turki, “Allawi’s Visit to Saudi Arabia Aims to Return Iraq to Arab System-Sources,” Asharq Alawsat, 2/22/10

Starr, Stephen, “Iraqi election fever hits Damascus,” Asia Times, 3/5/10

Wasat, “Maliki send representatives to Tehran to discuss support for a second term,” 3/17/10

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