IRAQ: Allawi and Sadr make nice in Damascus

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Former Iraq Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Shiite religious cleric Muqtada Sadr smiled at each other Monday like two old friends. They laughed and exchanged warm glances in Damascus, home of the Baath party, the political organization which rules Syria and whose Iraqi branch both men had sought to topple before 2003.

Politics make strange bedfellows. Nearly five months after national elections, it is unclear who will form the next Iraqi government. Assassinations occur daily, meanwhile, politicians dicker behind closed doors over ruling coalitions. Parties cook up possible winning formulas that gather steam and then fizzle. People speak aloud of a power vacuum. In private, politicians warn the country risks falling back into the chaos of 2006 and 2007.

Events in Damascus were the latest chapter in the post-election saga. The Sadr-Allawi summit came after a weekend rumor that a group from Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s list had visited Iran, with the purpose of securing Sadr’s endorsement for another term. According to the rumor, they were rebuffed. All sides publicly denied any such visit.

Next in the bizarre machinations, the reclusive Sadr suddenly materialized in Damascus for meetings with Syrian President Bashar Assad. And on Tuesday, Sadr sat with Maliki’s chief rival Allawi. It marked the first time the men have ever met and comes despite their own history of bad blood.


In August 2004, Allawi, then interim prime minister, backed the U.S. military’s battle against Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia in the shrine city of Najaf. Sadrists denounced Allawi as their enemy and on an infamous visit to Najaf in 2005, Sadr’s supporters hurled shoes at Allawi.

But in the calculus of Iraqi politics, yesterday’s enemy can become tomorrow’s friend. And Sadr’s relationship with Maliki soured two years ago after the prime minister ordered his security forces to attack Sadr’s militia in 2008. Will Allawi and Sadr’s huddle break the logjam? Time will tell.

Both sides spoke glowingly of the other after the meeting. Mohammed Allawi, an advisor to the candidate for the prime minister, said he believed the meeting had “turned [the relationship] 180 degrees.” An official from the Sadr office, who was not authorized to talk publicly, called it a step in the right direction and said Maliki’s list needed to drop its stance that the prime minister was their only candidate. Sadr also met with Turkey’s foreign minister. Incidentally, Turkey is seen as supporting Allawi. Stay tuned.

-- Ned Parker in Baghdad

and Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr greet each other before a meeting in Damascus on Monday. Credit: Khaled Hariri / Reuters