Shiite Muslim Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was endorsed to lead the next Iraqi government after his rivals walked out of parliament in a sign that a coalition agreement ending eight months of deadlock may not hold.
Former premier Ayad Allawi, who joined his Iraqiyah bloc in leaving the session late yesterday after it descended into shouting, had failed to assemble the support needed for a return to power. He is supposed to lead a new council to oversee security and foreign policy, and Iraqiyah was given the speaker’s post as part of the deal. Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, retained the presidency.
Maysoon Damluji, the Iraqiyah spokeswoman, said the bloc’s lawmakers walked out because al-Maliki’s alliance hadn’t abided by the terms of the agreement, which includes measures to reconcile the minority Sunnis and the majority Shiites.
“If they do not keep to the agreement, we will not take part in the government,” Damluji said today in telephone interview from Baghdad. “It’s very worrying. There is an obvious lack of trust between the political factions.”
U.S. and regional leaders urged an end to the political deadlock that began with the March 7 parliament elections and has coincided with a surge in violence. The new government will take office as the U.S. prepares to pull out its remaining troops next year, and must address long-standing disputes over issues including Iraq’s internal boundaries and rights to the country’s oil and gas reserves.
“This agreement marks another milestone in the history of modern Iraq,” Obama said at a news conference today in Seoul, where he was attending the Group of 20 meeting. “There’s still challenges to overcome, but all indications are that the government will be representative, inclusive, and reflect the will of the Iraqi people who cast their ballots.”
Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman told CNN that mediation efforts by the U.S., the Arab League and officials from Iraq’s northern Kurdish region began yesterday after the Iraqiyah protest and will continue until lawmakers meet again tomorrow. The session in Baghdad is scheduled for 11 a.m. local time.
The walkout stemmed from political misunderstandings and deep distrust among politicians, according to Othman, who said he hopes the power-sharing agreement will not fall through. If the situation is “not amended” and “they don’t come back, I am afraid it will,” he said.
Iraqiyah lawmakers will attend tomorrow’s session, said Damluji, the spokeswoman.
Damluji said the coalition deal has three parts: the establishment of a National Council for Strategic Policies, a new approach to reconciliation of sectarian groups, including Sunnis who were members of former President Saddam Hussein’s Baath party, and the restoration of the political careers of three Iraqiyah parliamentary candidates who were caught up in the Shiite-led purge of former Baathists.
Hussein’s regime, dominated by Sunnis, carried out persecution campaigns against opponents, including the Shiites and Kurds.
Allawi “was effectively squeezed into a choice of joining a government led by Maliki or remaining in opposition,” said Gala Riani, Middle East analyst for London-based IHS Global Insight. It’s likely his party will “function as an opposition within the government,” she said.
Competition between al-Maliki and Allawi to head the new government was the main cause of the deadlock, as neither leader had enough seats to govern alone. Allawi’s alliance won 91 seats in the March balloting to the 89 taken by al-Maliki’s bloc. Al- Maliki’s State of Law group assembled a governing majority of 163 seats in the 325-member parliament after being joined by smaller parties during months of negotiations.
Al-Maliki’s bloc will have five ministries in the coalition, his adviser, Ali al-Dabbagh, said yesterday.
Parliamentarian Kamal Saadi, a member of State of Law, said in an interview today that al-Maliki has already started talks with other political groups on forming a cabinet and is making progress.
Talabani called for reconciliation in a speech after his swearing-in, and said that will require “rising above all kinds of partiality.” His vice president has yet to be elected by lawmakers.
The parliament chose Usama Al-Najafi, a Sunni Muslim member of Iraqiyah, as speaker. Qusai al-Suhail, a member of the anti- U.S. movement led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and Kurdish politician Aref Tayfur were chosen as deputy speakers.
“It seems that no party, including the U.S., has come out thinking that they’ve got everything they had hoped for,” Iraq’s ambassador to the U.S., Samir Sumaida’ie, said in a telephone interview. The U.S. “made no secret” that it wanted Iraqiyah to have “a real share of power,” he said.
U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the new government has sufficient checks and balances to prevent any abuse of power. The security council headed by Allawi will function like a board of directors to al-Maliki’s executive authority, and decisions may require more than a simple majority, the officials said.
The extended political wrangling has held up resolution of disputes between the central government and the Kurdish authorities over control of the northern oil fields, including the Kirkuk region.
Iraq has the world’s fifth-largest oil reserves, without counting the Kurdish territory. Output was 2.35 million barrels a day last month, a drop of 6 percent from a year earlier, according to U.S. government data. The government has awarded 12 oil-service contracts and three gas licenses, hoping to boost production of its most prized exports.
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