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Iraq Flirts With Civil War Again

By March 30, 2010

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Pointing Fraud's Finger: Supports of incumbent Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki claim the election was stolen by Iyad Allawi. (Muhannad Fala'ah /Getty Images)

The Iraqi election was always going to be messy. It's getting messier.

Nuri al-Maliki, the incumbent prime minister, is contesting what looks like a victory by former prime minister and American darling Iyad Allawi (a CIA hand in the 1990s as he headed the Iraqi National Alliance in attempts to overthrow Saddam Hussein).

The re-emerging Muqtada al-Sadr, once a leading militant Shiite whose men battled Americans every day but who has recast himself as a political broker (his party won 39 of the 325 parliamentary seats on March 7), is asking for a referendum to choose the next prime minister, though that would not be constitutional. Sadr is aiming mostly to keep his name, and his power, on people's minds.

Meanwhile, six candidates who did win seats in the March 7 election may have their victory invalidated by a federal Iraqi court should the claim that they are former Baathists hold up. Under Iraqi law, Saddam Hussein's former Baath Party is illegal. Some 52 candidates were disqualified before the election. Should those six lose their seats, the margin that gave Allawi his victory could evaporate, and with it Allawi's claim to the prime ministership.

A breakthrough is always possible. But Lebanon's Daily Star isn't hopeful: "civil war looms," a Daily Star editorial concludes. The leaders of Iraq should put internal peace above all else. If they choose the alternative, Iraq will pay the heaviest possible price." Lebanese editorialists know what they speak of. Iraq is Lebanon writ large--a nation of sectarian and secular forces with unresolved and fundamental conflicts, and with the recent graves of hundreds of thousands of victims for reminders of what's at stake.

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