Iraqi PM seeks neighbors' support to stay in power

AP News
Posted: Oct 16, 2010 3:14 PM
Iraqi PM seeks neighbors' support to stay in power

Iraq's prime minister will travel to Iran and Jordan to seek support for his bid to win a second term more than seven months after national elections, an adviser said on Saturday.

Nouri al-Maliki is struggling to remain in power since his Shiite alliance narrowly lost the March 7 vote to a Sunni-backed bloc led by rival Ayad Allawi. Sunni Arab states like Jordan have supported Allawi because of his ties to Iraq's Sunni minority and out of fear that al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government was too friendly with Iran.

Al-Maliki adviser Ali al-Moussawi said Saturday that the prime minister will tell Amman and Tehran that none of Iraq's major political constituencies will be excluded from a new government if they back his second term.

"The aim of the visit is to assure (them) that all political groups will be included in the new government," al-Moussawi told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "The prime minister will give assurances that no political party or list will be marginalized."

Al-Maliki is slated to meet Jordan's King Abdullah II on Sunday. He's then scheduled to travel to Tehran for meetings with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday.

Arab states have been deeply concerned about the influence of Iran, a Shiite power, in Iraq and across the wider Middle East. King Abdullah II has been a particularly vocal critic of the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, and in 2004 even warned about the emergence of a "Shiite crescent" including Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon.

Iraq's Sunnis have felt politically marginalized since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein. The Sunnis then boycotted the first round of elections in 2005, which further sidelined them politically.

This year, they backed Allawi, a former prime minister and a secular Shiite, in hopes of regaining political strength and credibility.

With strong Sunni support, Allawi's secular Iraqiya alliance edged out al-Maliki's State of Law Shiite-dominated bloc. However, neither group won enough seats to control parliament outright, touching off a scramble to rally support from other political parties that has dragged on for more than seven months.

Al-Maliki got a boost last month by forging an alliance with anti-American and Iran-based Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. That all but sealed his hold on the job and set al-Maliki on a tour of Arab capitals to present himself as Iraq's undisputed leader despite falling short of winning March elections.

There were no immediate plans for al-Maliki to meet with al-Sadr while in Tehran, al-Moussawi said.

Al-Maliki also plans to visit Turkey and Egypt next week.

Earlier this week, al-Maliki met with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in Damascus in an effort to normalize long strained relations between the two neighboring states.

Iraqi and U.S. officials have long worried that the government impasse would embolden insurgent groups against the nation's fledging security forces, who have struggled to protect the country.

On Saturday, Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari said authorities have arrested eight al-Qaida-linked insurgents accused of plotting two brazen attacks in Baghad this summer.

Al-Askari accused the suspects of being members of the Iraqi Islamic Army, a wing of al-Qaida in Iraq, and said that they have confessed to involvement in a strike on a security checkpoint in Baghdad in July, and an attack against Iraqi army headquarters two months later that killed 12.


Associated Press Writer Mazin Yahya contributed to this report.