|Al-Maliki's alliance with the Kurds gives the sitting prime minister a clear majority in parliament [Reuters]
Iraq's rival political parties have failed to reach a power-sharing deal at the end of the first day of talks aimed at ending an eight-month-old deadlock over the formation of a new government.
Monday's meeting in Irbil, the Kurdish regional capital, were aimed at creating a government of national unity that includes Shias, Sunnis and Kurds.
The talks, which were hosted by Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish regional president, will now continue on Tuesday and Wednesday in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.
Tthe opening remarks of the meeting indicated that neither Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's incumbent prime minister, nor his chief rival, Iyad Allawi, had backed down from their negotiating positions, prolonging a deadlock which has left Iraq without a government since an inconclusive legislative election on March 7.
"It is necessary quickly to form a government which reflects the results of the elections," said Allawi, whose Iraqiya coalition narrowly won the polls and who accuses al-Maliki of refusing to respect the results.
"We must be equal in rights, duties and power-sharing, without anyone having the upper hand," said Allawi, who also accuses al-Maliki of monopolising power and insists on constitutional amendments to lessen the influence of the prime minister.
While Allawi insisted the election results be respected, al-Maliki in his remarks referred to respect for the constitution, which reserves maximum rights for the prime minister's post.
"Partnership must be concluded with true partners who respect the constitution," he said.
Against the background of a flare-up in violence since the end of October, Iraqiya members said their Sunni-backed party was being pressed to accept the post of parliament speaker.
The Kurdish coalition, kingmakers by virtue of their seats in parliament, has thrown its backing behind al-Maliki.
But Barzani said at the end of Monday's talks that his bloc's final position on whom it backs as president, prime minister and parliament speaker will only be announced after the Baghdad meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday.
"The three positions will be discussed tomorrow and the day after, and the decision of the Kurds will be announced in the meeting of parliament," Barzani said.
"Until now, Iraqiya has not told us that it would not take part in a government led by al-Maliki."
Iraqiya had previously said it would not take part in an al-Maliki led government and raised the possibility it might boycott a parliament session set for later this week.
However, ahead of the talks, senior leaders of Iraqiya had indicated that they expected they would ultimately agree to join forces with al-Maliki, while a group of legislators within the bloc warned they would split from it if it did not.
Al-Maliki's coalition has merged with other Shia groups and reached deals with minority Kurds, paving the way for him to retain power. It also has assurances of support from small Sunni-based factions.
Iraqiya's earlier apparent change of heart had been seen as a sign that it now recognises that al-Maliki's alliance has enough backing to form a government without it.
Under such a deal, al-Maliki would remain prime minister and Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, would retain the presidency.
Iraqiya could be offered the speaker's post in parliament, the foreign ministry and a role with possibly expanded authority over defence issues, the economy and foreign affairs.
In the March elections, al-Maliki's State of Law coalition won 89 seats compared with 91 for Allawi's coalition, no party won an outright majority in the 325-seat parliament.
Parliament has sat only once - in June for 17 minutes - since the election.
On October 24, the supreme court ordered MPs to resume work and choose a speaker.
The constitution stipulates that a speaker, president and prime minister must be elected in that order.
Al-Maliki's alliance with the Kurds gives the sitting prime minister a clear majority in parliament.
Since the elections, anti-government fighters have tried to exploit the political uncertainty.
On Monday, blasts in the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf left 13 people dead and many more injured.
They were the third major attacks since last week, after the killing of more than 50 Christians in a Baghdad church and a string of 13 co-ordinated bombings across Baghdad that killed more than 90 people.