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Iraqis Protest Impasse After Six Months Without a Government

Dozens of Iraqis staged a peaceful sit-in inside the parliament building in Baghdad to mark six months of political stalemate following inconclusive elections.

The demonstrators, who waved Iraqi flags, included academics and members of trade unions and human-rights advocacy groups.

“We demand the resumption of meetings of the Iraqi parliament and an end to the deadlock,” Zeinab Qassem, one of the organizers of today’s protest, said in an interview. She said similar events will be held in the coming days in the southern cities of Basra and Samawah and in the northern region of Kurdistan.

Iraqis defied threats from militants to cast ballots on March 7 in the second parliamentary poll since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein. Political leaders have been seeking allies since the vote, which gave no bloc enough seats to govern alone.

The impasse has coincided with an increase in violence, causing some investors such as CGGVeritas, the world’s largest seismic surveyor for oil and gas, to delay projects in the country. Iraq, holder of the world’s third-largest oil reserves, is seeking $400 billion to $500 billion in foreign investment to rebuild its economy, devastated by decades of war and sanctions.

“Terrorists have been taking advantage of the deadlock and are trying to undermine state institutions by targeting judges, and members of the Iraqi police and army,” said Hanaa Edwar, another protest organizer who is a member of a human-rights advocacy group, the Iraqi al-Amal Association.

The vacuum has also sparked a deterioration in the provision of necessities, including electricity, water, fuel and health care, and prompted higher unemployment, she said, adding “and all this, in an intense summer heat.”

Election Results

Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyah bloc won 91 seats in the elections. Premier Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance garnered 89 seats, the Iraqi National Alliance took 70 and an alliance of Kurdish parties won 43. The Iraqi parliament has 325 seats, and a governing coalition requires 163.

Iraq’s new lawmakers met for the first time on June 14. That session was adjourned after 15 minutes and won’t resume until the four main blocs have agreed on distributing key posts.

Edwar said she has attended meetings with political leaders and that she has noted a “complete” absence of trust.

“A new government is still very far away,” she said. “It will take time, maybe more than two months for them to agree.”

On Sept. 4, the INA announced that its candidate for the premiership is Adel Abdel Mahdi, one of two vice presidents. State of Law says al-Maliki should serve another term. Allawi’s group wants him to be prime minister.

The legislature’s adjournment has prompted debate in Iraq, with some groups saying it is illegal. Among them is al-Amal, which on Aug. 14 filed a claim with the Supreme Federal Court against parliamentary speaker Mohamed Fouad Maasum, alleging he breached the constitution by calling the break in proceedings.

“We demand an end to the open session,” Edwar said. “Otherwise, we will start calling for the dissolution of parliament and for new elections.”

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