Political deal ‘big step for Iraq’, says US

Thursday, November 11, 2010

WASHINGTON - The US Thursday called the breakthrough political agreement in Iraq a “big step” that will result in an inclusive government and major redistribution of power.

“What we’ve seen in Iraq is … the emergence of politics, Iraqis resolving their differences … through the political process,” a senior administration official told reporters.

“That is the single best guardian against the return to sectarianism and violence,” he said, on the condition of anonymity.

Just hours before, the Iraqi parliament ended an eight-month-long impasse by electing Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab nationalist, as speaker of parliament. Nuri al-Maliki, the incumbent prime minister who is Shia, will soon be re-appointed prime minister and a cabinet can begin running the country.

US officials emphasised the importance of inclusion of the Sunni faction — former prime minister Iyad Allawi and his secular Iraqiya List, the largest party in parliament with 91 seats.

Allawi had been a major holdout in the negotiations, insisting on the prime ministership because his party received the largest number of votes.

The officials noted that Allawi would likely take chairmanship of a new body created in the negotiations - a national council on strategy - which would put him in a position to serve as a check on the balance of power in Baghdad.

The council will oversee Iraq’s strategic direction in security, foreign policy, the economy, natural resources and other major issues, the US officials said, noting that “some details are still to be worked out”.

Reports say US President Barack Obama asked Allawi to take the job and agree to end the country’s power struggle.

“Iraqiya had to be in on the deal, had to be part of this new government,” the US official told reporters. And the fact that the council will presumably be headed by “someone with the domestic and international clout” of Allawi bodes well for the arrangement, another official said.

Under ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, minority Sunnis held often brutal sway over majority Shias, but since the US-led invasion of 2003, that balance changed as Shias took charge of the government.

Sunni resentment fuelled much of the lethal insurgency in the interim years.

A third power faction in Iraqi politics is the Kurdish region, and a Kurdish leader will stay on as president, said Massoud Barzani, president of the northern autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, in a televised address Thursday morning. The post will likely be filled by incumbent Jalal Talabani.

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