In advance of the poll, when haggling over the formation of the alliances had already taken place, senior advisers to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei came to Baghdad several times to speak to Iraqi Shia politicians. The Iranian emissaries were apparently trying to encourage the Shias to stick together and not compete with one another.

The goal was evidently to keep the PM position firmly in Shia hands. Both Maliki and Abadi are Shias. But the Iranian envoys were clearly unable to push through their agenda and unite the Shias. The rivalries between Shia leaders turned out to be insurmountable.

Two main Sunni alliances

The fragmentation of the Shias could result in them missing out on the chance to be able to form a coalition government as the strongest bloc. Their main challenge comes in the form of Iyad Allawi, a secular politician. He could join a coalition with other groups with no religious affiliation.

Former Iraqi premier Iyad Allawi (photo: Reuters)
Iyad Allawi seeks re-election: the former Iraqi premier openly favours a centralised form of government. In the 2010 elections he gained a slim majority but was unable to form a government for lack of willing coalition partners

The Sunnis have formed two main alliances: on the one hand, the current parliamentary speaker Salim al-Jabouri has sealed an alliance with the secularly-oriented Shia and former PM from the American era, Iyad Allawi. He in turn works together with secular Sunnis and Shias. A second Sunni alliance is led by Osama al-Nujaifi, the former governor of Mosul. This alliance also includes two more influential politicians from the province of Nineveh, where Mosul is located.

Allawi is seen as a proponent of a nation governed centrally from Iraq. Nujaifi is lobbying for a federal Iraq. Like the Kurds, he believes the Sunnis should also be able to form an autonomous entity within the country.

Allawi attained a slim majority in the 2010 elections, but was unable to form a government due to a lack of coalition partners. Maliki, who was then runner-up, managed to form a coalition government following some dogged manoeuvring.

Currently, with several promising alliances, the Shias stand a better chance of forming a coalition. The Sunnis, on the other hand, are only standing with two larger alliances. In addition, they have been weakened and damaged by the war against IS, which primarily took place in Sunni regions.

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