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Allawi: Walkout in Iraqi parliament illustrates mistrust


CNN: For former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, the dramatic parliamentary walkout of his Iraqiya bloc this week represents a deep-seated lack of trust among Iraqi politicians, and it underscores the threat to forming a new Iraqi government.

By Arwa Damon, CNN

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) — For former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, the dramatic parliamentary walkout of his Iraqiya bloc this week represents a deep-seated lack of trust among Iraqi politicians, and it underscores the threat to forming a new Iraqi government.

“This is a new dictatorship that is happening in Iraq” Allawi declared in an interview with CNN on Friday. “It’s becoming humiliating, it’s becoming very dictatorial, and they don’t want to respect those people who have other views than them.”

Until the final moment of forging a power-sharing agreement, Allawi, a secular Shiite and the Sunni-backed Iraqiya list he heads, had stated they would reject a government led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

“We agreed to sacrifice our constitutional and democratic rights and to accept the formation of a government for the sake of the Iraqi people” he said. “The problems that Iraq is facing — the bloodshed; every day there is killing, bombs and violence.”

Heated close door meetings that lasted until 3 p.m. Thursday between Allawi, al-Maliki and the Kurdish region’s president Massoud Barzani resulted in a basic agreement that would represent the outline of the new government.

Barzani last week launched in initiative to bring all political blocs together, and the meeting was attended by other officials, including U.S. diplomats.

“We agreed on three things,” Allawi said, “that the parliament should vote on setting this council, the National Council for Strategic Policies, and secondly, we agreed that to start a new chapter on reconciliation to give assurances to the Iraqi people that this is happening and that we are looking to the future and not the past.

The national council is critical to a power sharing agreement. Initially a U.S. idea, it would have the power to pass binding directives and be headed by a member of Iraqiya, intended to be Allawi himself. It would have served to check the powers of al-Maliki who would be serving a second term in office.

Opponents of al-Maliki feel he abused his power as prime minister to carry out a sectarian Shiite agenda.

Allawi’s bloc won 91 seats, the top number in the March 7 elections, and al-Maliki’s list came in a close second with 89. But neither politician could come up with the 163 seats needed for a governing coalition.

Al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition eventually formed alliances with other political blocs in efforts largely brokered by Iran, and this strengthened his hand.

“The third thing we agreed upon” Allawi continued ,”was a gesture of good will.”

And that applies to the hot-button issue of de-Baathification — the term used to describe the effort by Iraq to rid the country of Saddam Hussein’s now-banned Baath party.

Many Sunnis believe they are being unfairly targeted by some Shiites as being supporters of the Baath.

For example, a handful of Iraqiya members were banned by a de-Baathification government panel from participating in elections because they were suspected of glorifying the movement.

But a gesture of goodwill, Iraqiya wanted parliament to reconsider the politicians’ status and the country’s de-Baathification policy.

“I took the guarantees of the U.S. and other powers that there would be a power-sharing agreement and the real process of reconciliation.”

Allawi says that U.S. President Obama agreed that these were critical issues that needed to be tackled and that he thanked Allawi for stepping back from Iraqiya’s claim to the premiership.

It seems everything had been agreed upon when parliament convened. But in several hours, this tentatively brokered power-sharing agreement start to unravel.

Allawi and al-Maliki sat side by side, laughing. A new speaker — Usama al-Nujaifi, from the Iraqiya list — and his two deputies were elected.

But then a heated argument broke out after other members of parliament, including al-Maliki refused to vote on the agreement prior to voting in a president.

“The proceedings were going in the right way. Then suddenly they said we are going to elect the president,” Allawi recalls. “We said, “Wait a minute here, we agreed that there are points that we agreed that are going to be announced and voted on.'”

“I was very surprised, I was extremely surprised. This agreement was done after talking to Obama, the Arab League.”

Allawi and most members of his bloc walked out.

“It’s a joke in a way. What this reflects really, it reflects the intentions of these guys. They don’t have the intention to really work on a power sharing formula.”

“We don’t want to be puppets for a government that does not respect the will of the people, that does not respect power sharing. After all the compromises I am not going to be a puppet running around being a false witness to history.”

Allawi says Iran is intent on undermining his bloc.

“Iran was adamant that the will keep blocking the route of Iraqiya to heading the government. They have been adamant the last eight months that Iraqiya should not be in a place of power in government.

“In everything, we see Iran’s hand trying to bloc it. This is the crux of the matter, and I wanted these decisions to be made, but we can’t keep struggling everyday, fighting Iran and Iran’s influence in Iraq. It’s an unequal fight, and we don’t have sufficient strength.”

Al-Nujaifi, the new speaker, also briefly walked out but then returned. Parliament eventually voted in President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, for a second term. Talabani then chose Maliki as his prime minister and asked him to form a Cabinet.

Many observers and officials have warned against forming a government that would exclude Iraqiya and its Sunni backers fearing that would further reopen Iraq’s sectarian divides and lead to more violence.

“The only way to get rid of violence is to build institutions of the state based on power sharing and to have a real reconciliation program going on in Iraq” Allawi says.

“Violence is already there and if they want secular Shias and Sunnis to be second-class citizens this is unacceptable. This is why I tried very hard to get this power sharing vote. To me this is a big lesson. Even if they come to me and say we are going to make this in the future, I am not going to trust them.”

The Iraqiya list has issued a month-deadline for various demands to be met. Allawi says he expects they will boycott Saturday’s parliament session and that he personally will not accept a government role.

“I personally have made up my mind. I will not be a part of this theatre,” he said. “I am thinking of forming a council for opposition from inside parliament to start building the issues that we think are right for this country and to use all possible peaceful means to achieve the objectives.”

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