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Middle East
Iraq begins to form new government
In second meeting since March election, parliament elects new president and speaker despite Sunni coalition walkout.
Last Modified: 12 Nov 2010 02:56 GMT
Osama al-Nujaifi, the newly elected speaker, joined members of the Iraqiya coalition in the walk out [AFP]

Iraqi politicians have met for only the second time since the country's March legislative election, approving a new speaker and president despite a walk-out by some members of the country's largest political coalition.

Politicians returned Jalal Talabani to the largely ceremonial post of president and voted to make Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab member of the Iraqiya coalition, the new speaker of parliament during a late-night session on Thursday.

As expected, Talabani nominated Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's current prime minister, to serve another term. Al-Maliki now has a month to form a cabinet and present his government to parliament for a vote.

The Iraqiya alliance, led by former prime minister and US favourite Iyad Allawi, won two more seats than Al-Maliki's State of Law coalition during the March 7 vote, but neither side won a majority, leading to the country's political deadlock.

Thursday's apparent deal was marred when a large number of Iraqiya politicians walked out in protest after al-Nujaifi, elected as speaker just minutes earlier, declined their request to hold an impromptu vote on removing three politicians' names from a list of people allegedly associated with former leader Saddam Hussein's Baath party.

Around two-thirds of the Iraqiya coalition left the chamber in protest before the vote on making Talabani president, Reuters reported. Al-Nujaifi told the Iraqiya members clamoring for the special vote that his allegiance was no longer to the coalition but to Iraq, and that the constitution mandated parliament vote on a new president.

Iraqiya politicians claimed that the removal of three senior politicians' names from a list of alleged Baath party members kept by a "de-Baathification" committee was part of a broad power-sharing agreement that all sides in Iraq's ongoing political dispute had agreed to, Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh reported from Baghdad.

"There's an atmosphere of a lack of confidence about the sessions," she said.

After Iraqiya members continued to protest and began the walk out, Al-Nujaifi joined them and left his two deputies - also just elected - to lead the session. Iyad Allawi, the Iraqiya leader and former prime minister favoured by the US, also walked out.

Al-Nujaifi eventually returned to the session. The fate of the de-Baathification vote is unclear, but al-Nujaifi said there will be another session of parliament on Saturday, Rageh said. Despite the Iraqiya walkout, she said, there was apparently a quorum present to allow the other votes to move forward legally.

'Great victory'

Earlier on Thursday, it appeared that Iraqiya, which had been opposing allowing al-Maliki to remain in power, had finally decided to join his government.

"This is a great victory for Iraqi people, which regretfully came at a late stage," Massoud Barzani, the president of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, said earlier after brokering the unity deal.

"Finally, fortunately, it's done. It's finished. All the groups are in it,'' said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish politician who took part in the nearly seven hours of negotiations on Wednesday.

Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesman and member of the State of Law, said Iraqiya had decided after extensive talks to accept the parliament speaker's job and cede al-Maliki the prime minister's position.

Iraqiya was to join the Kurdish alliance in supporting another four-year term for al-Maliki.

Following the agreement, parliament convened in Baghdad, the capital. As first orders of business, members of parliament were to approve the power-sharing deal, appoint a new speaker and his deputies, then appoint the president and prime minister.

Al-Nujaifi, as speaker of parliament, was to be the one new face. He maintains a power base in the north, particularly in Mosul, the city of his birth. Though his Arab nationalist attitudes have reportedly caused problems with the Kurds, al-Nujaifi visited Arbil, the Kurdish capital, during government-formation talks.

In a nod to Iraqiya's power, Allawi was expected to become the leader of a newly created Council for National Strategy, which will have authority over security.

Rageh said the strategic council is intended to serve as a check on the prime minister's power.

"Al-Maliki emerged as a clear winner ... But it's not entirely bad news for the Sunnis," Rageh said.

Repeated rejection

Over the past eight months, Iraqiya had repeatedly rejected another al-Maliki term and demanded the right to form the government as the top vote winner in the election.

Politicians from the National Alliance party, led by former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and including Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said they would proceed with government formation as long as they had a political majority - even if other blocs chose to boycott Thursday's parliamentary session.

"We do not imagine a government that does not represent all Iraq's factions ... But the government does not and will not stop, God forbid, if a list stays behind," al-Jaafari said.

Parliament met briefly in June, but politicians said they needed more time to decide who would hold the highest offices.

Last month, Iraq's high court ordered parliament to resume its sessions, putting pressure on politicians to expedite a deal.

Despite receding Shia-Sunni violence, the long parliamentary deadlock has fuelled tension as US forces prepare to withdraw in 2011.

A series of attacks on Christian targets across Baghdad on Wednesday stirred renewed fear in the minority community.

The bomb and mortar blasts occurred just 10 days after a bloody siege at a Catholic cathedral in the capital that killed 52 people.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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