Agence France-Presse - 02 March, 2010
Resolving border disputes with Kuwait is one of the main challenges for Iraq's next government, said Iraq's national security adviser, who also warned of a "tough time" if Al-Qaeda could take advantage of a security vacuum if the country takes a long time to form a new government after elections next Sunday. Safa Hussein's remarks in an interview with AFP come amid fears it could be several months before a government is in place after the war-torn nation's March 7 parliamentary ballot.
If it takes a long time, we will have some difficulties," said Hussein, who listed how quickly a government can be put in place as his top security concern, adding that he considered one month a "short time". Under the Iraqi electoral system, no one party will emerge with the 163 parliamentary seats needed to form a government on their own and the ensuing horse-trading to form a governing coalition could be protracted. "I would begin to be concerned if it (a government) was not established by July," Husse
in said. "The security forces will work as they should work and so on, but at least the terrorists perceive that they have a better chance to carry out attacks, and they will want to try to influence the establishment of the government, so we will have a period which is favorable to the terrorists.
Hussein said the next government's main challenges will be to deal with Arab-Kurd tensions along a tract of disputed territory in north Iraq and ending border disputes with Kuwait and Iran. "Within the next months, we will have a tough time, but after that and after the establishment of the government, I think we will have good progress and quick progress," he said.
Hussein noted that further complications could arise were the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), a Shiite-dominated bloc led by opponents of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, to emerge as the biggest winner from the elections, as negotiations could take even longer because the INA has no clear candidate for premier.
Following the last legislative elections in Dec 2005, it took three months for a government to be formed. Hussein said Iraqi security forces had found and prevented at least 10 vehicle bombs in the past month as Al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups sought to target the elections. The majority of those bombs, which would cause "very major damage", were targeting Baghdad, he said.
Of the groups seeking to strike in the period surrounding the elections, "AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) attacks are the most direct and serious security threat". "Al-Qaeda will try to target the whole process, but we do think that it doesn't have the capacity to reach its goals," Hussein said. "Maybe they will try to influence the results of the election considerably, and we think they don't have this capability either. Maybe they can carry out some operations that damage some innocent people.
Asked what the next government's priorities would have to be, Hussein listed tensions with Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, borders with Iran and Kuwait after wars with the two countries in the 1980s and 1990s, and disputes with Turkey over water rights along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. "The relations between the government and the Kurds are very important to resolve," he said, referring to a dispute between the two sides over a tract of land along Kurdistan's border with the rest of Iraq.
Kurdish authorities want their existing three provinces to be expanded into all of oil-rich Kirkuk as well as historically Kurdish-inhabited parts of Nineveh and Diyala. The central government in Baghdad, however, says Kurdistan's borders should not extend past its existing provinces of Arbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk. The US military has repeatedly warned that tensions over the disputed territory, which is also rich in oil, are the biggest threat to Iraq's long-term stability.