BAGHDAD -- The Shi'ite vice president relented yesterday and signed a presidential decree calling Iraq's parliament into session as early as this weekend, ending a critical stalemate but setting the stage for a rancorous political fight among majority Shi'ites.
The dispute centered on Shi'ite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's bid for a second term, which is opposed by a coalition of Sunni Arab, Kurdish, and secular Shi'ite politicians.
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, hopes to bring the controversy to a head by convening parliament.
But to convene the session, Talabani needed the approval of his two vice presidents. Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni who is out of the country, gave Talabani power of attorney Monday to sign on his behalf. Adil Abdul-Mahdi, the Shi'ite, initially declined but reversed his position yesterday.
Abdul-Mahdi ''signed the decree today. I expect the first session to be held on Sunday or by the end of next week at the latest," said Nadim al-Jabiri, head of one of seven Shi'ite political factions.
A second key Shi'ite political figure, speaking anonymously because of the sensitive nature of the information, said Abdul-Mahdi acquiesced after US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad sought the intervention of Shi'ite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim.
Abdul-Mahdi heads the Shi'ite parliamentary bloc loyal to Hakim, who leads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
Jabiri, however, said the decision to sign the decree was made on advice Wednesday from Iraq's Federal Court, which said parliament could be convened through an alternative process if Abdul-Mahdi continued to hold out.
Jabiri is secretary-general of the Shi'ite Fadhila Party, which sided with Hakim in an unsuccessful bid to nominate Abdul-Mahdi as head of a new government over Jaafari during a Shi'ite caucus last month.
Jaafari won renomination by one vote with the backing of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a staunch anti-American player in Iraqi politics.
Since then, an unlikely coalition of Sunni, Kurdish, and some secular political figures, led by Talabani, has challenged Jaafari's candidacy on grounds he is too divisive.