Political impasse ends as Iraq appoints parliament speaker

Thursday, November 11, 2010

BAGHDAD - Iraq achieved a breakthrough Thursday when it named a speaker for its parliament, under a complex political deal that ends eight months of deadlock and paves the way for the formation of a new government.

Parliament voted Iraqiya List member Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab nationalist, as its speaker. The only candidate named for the position at the start of the session, al-Nujaifi received 227 out of 295 votes cast.

The parliament can now move toward naming a new president, who would then have the job of appointing a prime minister, according to the country’s constitution.

It was the only the second session of parliament since the March elections, with the first meeting in July lasting less than 20 minutes.

A political deal reached Wednesday night, after seven hours of tough negotiations, would see Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim from the Dawa party, keep his job as prime minister. He would convene a new cabinet after the upcoming three-day Eid al-Adha Muslim festivities, which ends Nov 18.

“Al-Maliki will officially assume his role as head of the Iraqi government after the Eid holidays,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on the regional news network al-Arabiya.

In addition to the Sunni speaker of parliament, a Kurdish leader was expected to stay on as president, rounding off the selection of the top three posts.

“The presidency of Iraq will belong to a Kurd,” Massoud Barzani, president of the northern autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, said in a televised address Thursday morning. The post will likely be filled by incumbent Jalal Talabani.

After grabbing the role of speaker of parliament, former prime minister Iyad Allawi’s secular Iraqiya List, the largest party in parliament with 91 seats, was also expected to get the foreign minister’s portfolio.

Allawi himself, according to officials, would head a national council on strategy, a role which leaders were working behind the scenes to define. Reports say US President Barack Obama asked Allawi to take the job and agree to end the country’s power struggle.

Al-Maliki, who heads the broader Shiite-majority State of Law coalition, which won 89 of the 325 seats in elections in March, exuded confidence Wednesday.

“We will not only experience the birth of a new government but even the beginning of the rebuilding of the Iraqi state,” he said.

However, al-Iraqiya had hoped its leader Allawi, a secular Shiite, would get the premiership and there were signs of dissatisfaction within its ranks as details of the power-sharing deal were released.

“We are the largest faction, according to the election results, and if the others have divided the positions among themselves, that would mean that democracy in Iraq is over,” said Abdul Qadir Mahdi, an Iraqiya List parliamentarian.

The new government will have to tackle a rising wave of violence, which in recent weeks has again taken on an overt sectarian tone, and the other neglected legislative issues, including crumbling infrastructure across the country.

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