It is looking increasingly difficult for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to form and lead a new government with almost all avenues to power now blocked to him.
Shaping up as the political king-maker in the new parliament is the leader of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, Ammar al-Hakim. In an interview with ABC News he said Maliki “has two obstacles. He must be accepted by both the national Shia Alliance, and by the other minorities.”
On both those counts Maliki doesn’t appear to meet the criteria.
The creation of a new government without Maliki at its head has picked up momentum as the al Qaeda offshoot ISIS and its Sunni allies has swept through much of northern Iraq and declared a caliphate in the lands of Syria and Iraq they control. The U.S. has hinted a new government must be acceptable to Iraq's Sunni and Kurdish minorities. The country's leading Shia cleric has made a similar statement last week.
Maliki, however, has indicated he does not intend to relinquish his position.
Tuesday looms as a hugely important day in the political process when the new parliament is expected to have quorum for its inaugural session. The first task will be to elect a speaker. That will then trigger a process for the selection of a new president within 30 days, which in turn will trigger the process for selecting a new prime minister, which must happen within 15 days. In all, this process could take around six weeks to complete, or if voting blocs have stitched-up back-room deals already, it could be wrapped up in a matter of days.
Political horse-trading has been unfolding over recent weeks, intensifying this week after the visit of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. All the key leaders in Iraq who met with Kerry agreed to try to meet the July 1timeline for commencing the constitutional process.
Perhaps the single most significant public development in this process so far is the meeting of the Shia Alliance on Saturday night, after which the coalition of parties declared itself the biggest single voting bloc in the parliament. This issues a direct challenge to Maliki’s State of Law party, which holds 92 seats and is the single largest party in parliament.