The government formation process seems to have reached critical mass and I suspect we’re going to see some interesting developments within the next couple weeks. Here’s where the different groups stand as of now:
The Sadrists (40 seats) made a 180 degree turn earlier this week by supporting Maliki’s bid for a second term. Apparently a fatwa from Ayatollah Ha’iri (Moqtada’s mentor) forced him to change his mind, even though he had been consistently and adamantly opposed to letting Maliki stay for a second term. But Sadr isn't particularly famous for being consistent! His followers are confused to say the least, because Sadr has more than once referred to Maliki as a liar and a hypocrite. Now Sadr is telling his followers that his decision to support the same hypocrite is “in their best interest.”
This change in Sadr’s position has brought the Iraqi National Alliance (INA: Sadrists, ISCI, and Fadheela) to the brink of collapse. While Sadr and Fadheela endorse Maliki, ISCI, led by Ammar Hakim remains opposed to Maliki staying power and is still trying to promote its own candidate Aadil Abdul Mahdi. In fact, ISCI is in a tough position because it’s suffering from internal divisions as well. Badr organization (aka Badr Brigade, led by Hadi Al-Aamiri, who is very close to Iran) which represents roughly half of ISCI is moving in the same direction as Sadr. Hakim and Abdul Mahdi believe this is their last chance to remain a relevant player. They see they have been losing ground and clout to their rivals/partners over time. Five years ago ISCI (back then SCIRI) was the largest, most powerful Shiite party, but now they have only 17 seats out of 325. ISCI leaders think that a deal with Allawi could give them some of that power back.
The Kurds (57 seats) are generally closer to Allawi these days, but also have some disagreements. Masoud Barzani seems comfortable supporting Allawi, but Jalal Talabani sounds like he’s been under a lot of pressure from Iran to go in the opposite direction. This is potentially dangerous.
The two smaller blocs; Tawafok (6 seats) and Iraq Unity (4 seats) can be counted as Allawis upporters.
The INA is having a meeting today with Maliki’s bloc, but ISCI is not going to take part. The meeting will most certainly result in declaring Maliki as the official candidate of the so called National Coalition (INA+Maliki’s State of Law coalition). This would give Maliki 140 votes—and potentially half a dozen more if Badr breaks away from ISCI.
The only option for the other blocs to counter this outcome would be to form their own coalition, and there are signals (particularly from Allawi) that this is already in the works. If the Kurds, ISCI and the two smaller parties join Allawi (assuming Talabani doesn’t go astray) they will have a total of 168-175 votes, depending on whether Badr stays or goes with Maliki. Either number is of course greater than 163, which is what they need to present their own candidate; that would be Allawi, or Abdul Mahdi.
Maliki is now officially nominated for the premiership with Sadr's support. ISCI boycotted the meeting.