Q. What do you make of this seeming inability to put together a new government since the elections last March?
A. The most worrying thing is that the maneuvering so far has not been particularly realistic (and) things have not moved very much in the four months that have passed. For example, right now much of the discussion is (around) having the three major factions join together: That would be Allawi's Iraqiya; the Shiite alliance, called INA and headed by
A. There was a presidential element to the vote on
Those two are the most popular candidates, and Maliki, it seems, is a little bit more popular in his particular constituency in
Q. The two men met recently. Is the issue that neither one is willing to play second fiddle?
A. Yes, that's the main problem. As an alternative, they are exploring all sorts of scenarios with oversized governments in which their particular parties would end up getting fewer posts in the government and they would push their personal ambitions a little bit to the background.
Q. Is there a compromise candidate that Maliki and Allawi could agree on?
A. Not one that they could agree on. The problem is that by the constitution, the job of the government is given to the candidate of the biggest bloc. Iraqiya is the biggest bloc in terms of what the parties achieved in the elections, but Maliki has based his plans to remain in the premiership on a bloc that came into existence only after the elections when the two Shiite lists, State of Law and INA, tried to join together in an even bigger alliance.
Q. Where does Shia cleric
A. He is in the same group as Hakim. They are the third group, they are called the INA, and they've got seventy seats. They are trying to impose a compromise candidate of their own, but obviously neither Maliki nor Allawi is particularly happy about that.
A. It slows down a good deal.
Q. The parliament is due to meet this week. Are they supposed to pick a speaker?
A. They could do it, yes. That is what they should have done four weeks ago, but so far, there's been postponement of that because most of the parties prefer to do all these so-called leading positions -- the speaker of the parliament, the presidency, the prime minister -- in a single deal. Lacking a package agreement, they've been unwilling to pick a speaker.
A. To some extent,
Q. Vice President
A. It's declining by the day. It's also a little bit unhelpful that
Q. Meanwhile, we still have these sporadic explosions that are quite destructive. Everyone blames these on the al-Qaeda faction in
A. Many Sunnis voted for Allawi, but Allawi has also had a quite substantial backing by Shiites, who are secular. So it's not only Sunnis that are worried. I don't think we should see the situation now as some sectarian struggle. It's more complicated.
Q. Are educated Iraqis more secular and therefore more prone to support Allawi?
A. You would certainly find some Iraqis that fit that description, but Maliki has also been able to corral some of the professional class into his group. So in many ways, both Maliki and Allawi are competing for similar electorates. Perhaps you could say Allawi is a little bit more leaning toward Sunnis, and perhaps you could say Maliki is more for Shiites, but then again, Allawi himself is a Shiite, so there is no perfect sectarian pick in any of the electorates.
Q. What would it take for Allawi and Maliki to get together? In
A. I don't think it is advisable, because
Q. Is there a lot of intensive discussion going on behind the scenes?
A. Oh sure. Coming back to my overall theme, there's been a lot of suspense the last week, for example, but no objective signs of progress in these negotiations.
Q. What would be your guess as how this will be resolved?
A. When we get to September, that will match the time the politicians spent in 2006. That is the Iraqi record. I think the world record is 210 days. By September, there will be pressure building on them to get things done. But right now, I don't see any immediate step towards a solution. Maybe Iraqiya has to experience failure before they really turn to the bitter pill of negotiating with Maliki. Maybe they have to experience failure in what they're currently doing with the Kurds and INA.
Q. Do Hakim, the head of the INA, and Allawi get along well?
A. On the personal level they do, but the programs of their political parties are extremely different. In terms of political programs, Maliki has a lot more in common with Allawi.
Q. Do the Kurds just watch with amusement, or are they very concerned about this?
A. They are concerned, but they seem to be waiting a little bit for the others to agree on a prime ministerial candidate.
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