Last Updated: Thu Nov 11, 2010 21:38 pm (KSA) 18:38 pm (GMT)

Power-sharing deal sealed 8 months after Iraq vote

 

Iraq's deeply divided political factions have sealed a power-sharing deal more than eight months after an inconclusive general election, paving the way for MPs to elect a speaker on Thursday.

The deal, clinched late on Wednesday night after three days of high-pressure talks between the rival factions, sees Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, set to return for a second term, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, likely to retain the presidency and a Sunni Arab MP poised to be elected as speaker of parliament.

It also establishes a new statutory body to oversee security as a sop to former prime minister Iyad Allawi, who had held out for months to take the premiership from Maliki after his mainly Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc won narrowly more seats in the March election.

The White House Thursday welcomed the power-sharing deal hammered out in Iraq as a "big step forward."

"The apparent agreement to form an inclusive government is a big step forward for Iraq," said Anthony Blinken, national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden.

"All along we've said the best result would be a government that reflects the results of the elections, includes all the major blocs representing Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups, and that does not exclude or marginalize anyone."

Hard-won agreement

 All along we've said the best result would be a government that reflects the results of the elections, includes all the major blocs representing Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups, and that does not exclude or marginalize anyone 
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden

The hard-won agreement now paves the way for an end to a months-long power vacuum that had witnessed growing violence in the country.

Allawi's Iraqiya bloc confirmed it had finally signed up to the deal.

"I can confirm that there was an accord last night, but I cannot give details," Iraqiya spokesman Intissar Allawi told AFP.

The support of the bloc, which won most of its support among the Sunni Arab minority that dominated Saddam Hussein's regime and has been the bedrock of the anti-U.S. insurgency since the 2003 invasion, was seen as vital to prevent a resurgence of violence.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said that Iraqiya had agreed to accept the position of parliament speaker -- not the presidency or the premiership they had long sought.

"A power-sharing agreement has been concluded and parliament will meet ... to elect Osama al-Nujaifi as speaker," Dabbagh told AFP, referring to a Sunni MP from Iraqiya.

The session, which will also select the country's president, was delayed until 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) amid last-minute disputes within the National Alliance, the mainly Shiite bloc of which Maliki is leader, over the distribution of posts.

Dabbagh said Maliki would not be formally named prime minister until after the Eid al-Adha holiday, which concludes on Nov. 20.

"Very responsible attitude"

 A power-sharing agreement has been concluded and parliament will meet ... to elect Osama al-Nujaifi as speaker 
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh

Kurdish politician Massud Barzani, who brokered the deal, earlier paid tribute to the 11th-hour concessions by Iraqiya that had made it possible and said he hoped its leader Allawi would now agree to head the new National Council for Strategic Policy.

"In the final minutes of Wednesday's meeting, our brothers in Iraqiya adopted a very responsible attitude by deciding to take part in the government and the parliament session," Barzani, who is president of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, told a Baghdad news conference.

Iraqiya MP Mustafa al-Hiti told AFP that U.S. President Barack Obama had "telephoned Allawi to confirm to him that the NCSP would be a decision-making body and that that the law creating it would be voted on before the formation of a new government."

Allawi had repeatedly accused Maliki of monopolizing security decisions during his first term and as long as six months ago U.S. officials floated the idea of a new counterweight to the power of the prime minister's office as a way of breaking the deadlock between the two men over the premiership.

Hiti said that a Sunni Arab politician would also take the post of foreign minister in the new government, replacing Kurdish incumbent Hoshyar Zebari.

He said it would go to Saleh al-Mutlak, a secular Sunni member of the previous parliament who was barred from standing for re-election for alleged links to the Baath party of the now executed Saddam.

Regional & international pressure

 The Americans will support anything that we Iraqis reach agreement on, even if there have been differences of opinion with them 
Kurdish politician Massud Barzani

Barzani said that he expected Washington, which is due to withdraw its remaining 50,000 troops from Iraq by the end of next year, to endorse the deal.

"The Americans will support anything that we Iraqis reach agreement on, even if there have been differences of opinion with them," he said, in allusion to the inclusion in the power-sharing deal of the Shiite radical movement of Moqtada al-Sadr, who led two uprisings against U.S.-led troops in 2004.

The Kurdish leader acknowledged that foreign governments had attempted to influence the outcome of the coalition talks.

"I cannot deny there has been regional and international pressure. Often it took the form of conversations and suggestions, but sometimes it amounted to pressure," he said.

Throughout the drawn-out negotiations, Allawi accused Shiite Iran of putting unwarranted pressure on Iraqi leaders to keep the incumbent in office, while Maliki in turn accused the former premier of pandering to Sunni Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia.

Barzani said that he hoped the new government could now be formed swiftly to tackle security concerns which have grown in recent weeks.

A string of anti-Christian bombings on Wednesday killed six people, days after a hostage-taking at a Baghdad cathedral by al-Qaeda gunmen that killed 44 worshippers and two priests.

Scores have also been killed in bomb attacks this month on Shiite cities and neighborhoods across central and southern Iraq.

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