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Iraq mired in political impasse over Maliki’s role

By Rebecca Santana
Associated Press / July 13, 2010

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BAGHDAD — Hopes that Iraq’s parliament could convene this week fell apart yesterday as the country stumbled into its fifth month with no new government and the prime minister hitting a brick wall with his nominal Shi’ite allies, some of whom deeply oppose his staying in his post.

The heads of the main political blocs met yesterday in the latest attempt to find common ground, but with no resolution on filling top posts in sight, they decided to delay the next session for two weeks, said the acting parliament speaker, Fouad Massoum.

That means more backroom negotiations as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tries to cobble together a coalition that will back him for a new term, while his rivals press for him to step down, all against a backdrop of the US military preparing to withdraw all combat troops by September and all forces by the end of next year.

Shi’ite parties appeared to have made a breakthrough in early May when Maliki’s State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance, a Shi’ite bloc backed by Iran, announced a coalition that seemed to give them a sure hand to form the government. But they have since been deadlocked over Maliki, as some alliance members staunchly reject a new term.

“They seem to be totally stalemated, and they’re totally stalemated because nobody wants Maliki to be prime minister,’’ said Marina Ottoway, from the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, based in Washington.

The deadlock is so tough that the prime minister is now flirting with his archrival, Ayad Allawi, a secular Shi’ite who leads the mainly Sunni coalition, Iraqiya. But that political combination has its own challenges.

To be sure, no one thought seating a new government would be easy.

The election results set up a contentious fight: Iraqiya narrowly edged out the State of Law coalition, 91 seats to 89, in a March 7 election shocker that was celebrated by Iraq’s Sunni community. But it was far short of the necessary 163-seat majority.

The parliament held its inaugural session on June 14, but it was largely symbolic and ended after less than 20 minutes.

Under Iraq’s constitution, the legislature should have chosen a parliament speaker and a president, but these appointments had to be put off because they are part of the negotiations between major political blocs over the rest of the new leadership — including a prime minister and top Cabinet officials.

Members of the Iraqi National Alliance, which includes followers of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, have vehemently opposed Maliki continuing as prime minister.

Maliki jailed thousands of Sadr’s supporters during US-Iraqi offensives in their strongholds of Basra and Baghdad’s Sadr City.

The Shi’ite alliance was more about keeping Allawi from power rather than any desire to work together, said Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish politician.

“Frankly speaking, things are not clear, and nobody knows if they [the blocs] can reach an agreement or not,’’ Othman said yesterday.

Officials from both parties in the alliance said other objections to Maliki included poor relations with the Arab world and a tendency to act without consulting others outside his inner circle, pushing members of his Dawa Party into government posts and appointing members of the armed forces loyal to him.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the ongoing negotiations.

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