Negotiations between the successful parties in the Iraqi election will start shortly and are likely to produce a national unity government dominated by the Shia and the Kurds, according to Hoshyar Zebari, the Foreign Minister.
In a jubilant mood in the wake of the elections, having vigorously opposed their postponement, Mr Zebari said: “We must not squander this wonderful historic victory. If we do not get it right, the consequences will be devastating.”
Though he did not say explicitly that the interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, was bound to lose his job, Mr Zebari believes the number of candidates for the post of prime minister in the new government has narrowed to two.
Those are Ibrahim Jaafari of Dawa, the Shia party, who is currently vice-president, and Adel Abdul Mehdi, the Finance Minister, of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
Mr Zebari said that his own calculation of the outcome of the election, made before the polls opened, is for the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shia coalition, to win 130 to 140 seats in the 275 -member National Assembly.
“I think the Kurdish Alliance will get 75 to 85 and Allawi some 50 to 60 seats.” He was doubtful about how long the Shia coalition, formed under the auspices of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, would hold together. “It is an electoral pact, not a party,” Mr Zebari added.
“Already they are squabbling about who will be prime minister and which positions they should take.”
The Kurdish leaders have already agreed what jobs they want. Jalal al-Talabani is their candidate for the presidency. Mr Zebari said that all the senior jobs in the new government would have to be agreed “as part of a single package”.
To conciliate the Sunni Arabs, who are at the heart of the insurgency and largely boycotted the poll, he said they needed to be given one of the top three jobs: president, prime minister or speaker of the national assembly.
The Sunnis should play a role in formulating the constitution. He added there should be a big conference, “a national dialogue between all components of Iraqi society.” That would take place either before or after the constitution had been drafted but, in any case, before a referendum is held to ratify it.
There are signs that the secular Kurds are worried by the runaway victory of the Shia religious parties. They are concerned also by the growth of Iranian influence through the Shia parties. “Our nightmare was that somebody might win two-thirds of the vote,” said Mr Zebari. For a new government to be formed, a two-thirds majority in the assembly is needed.
Sounding regretful about the probable departure of Mr Allawi, Mr Zebari said: “Allawi has done everything he could. He had too short a time to correct the mess he was left with.”
But he thinks that, after the election, Iraq has a chance “to go back to May 2003,” the month after the fall of Saddam Hussein and do all the things that should have been done then.
The lack of security was underlined again yesterday when suicide bombers attacked police in Mosul and Baquba, killing 27 and injuring 20 others. Another died in a mortar attack on a Mosul police station.
* An Italian journalist who is being held hostage in Iraq will be released in the next few days, according to a website. Giuliana Sgrena has been “cleared of spying” by her captors, the Jihad Organisation.