BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki acknowledged on Sunday that he would probably need partners to gain a majority after the election on March 7, and said he was ready to join with Kurdish or other Shi’ite groups.
“Alliances in forming the coming government are a must,” he said in remarks carried by the state-owned National Media Center.
“Coalition with the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) and the Kurdish coalition is an important issue in building the country. These blocs enjoy historical relations that the political process and national unity need.”
Maliki’s comments were the clearest signal yet that his State of Law coalition hopes to join forces with rival blocs after the polls.
They might also constitute an acknowledgement that his own support may be less than anticipated — although few political experts expected any single electoral bloc to form a majority on its own in a society as fractured as Iraq’s.
Maliki, who has gathered strength and popularity since being selected as a relatively obscure compromise candidate in 2006, did well in provincial polls in early 2009, but his law-and-order message has taken a hit after a series of bomb attacks in Baghdad.
His current government is an alliance of majority Shi’ites with Kurds and Sunnis. After his strong performance in 2009, Maliki decided his ostensibly non-sectarian State of Law alliance would run against the other main Shi’ite groups.
Wheeling and dealing after next Sunday’s election could mean it takes weeks or even months to form the next government.
The INA is Maliki’s main rival for the Shi’ite vote, while the Kurdish coalition is dominated by the two parties that control Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region: the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
Kurds are seen as kingmakers in the polls, as their support could give any bloc decisive weight in forming a government.
The polls may mark a watershed for Iraq as it struggles to end seven years of violence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. But they could also renew political feuds that have fueled greater violence in the past.
Maliki’s broad-based alliance includes members of his Dawa party, a party founded in the 1950s to give Shi’ite Islam greater power in public life, and other groups including some Sunni tribal leaders, Shi’ite Kurds, Christians and independents.