Iraqi parliament to open three months after elections

BAGHDAD, Prashant Rao - Iraq will on Monday finally open its second parliament since the US-led ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003, bolstering its nascent democracy three months after polls failed to usher in a new government.
The opening session of the Council of Representatives marks one of the few tangible forward steps taken by the war-battered country's politicians since a general election on March 7 resulted in deadlock between rival parties.

Former Iraqi premier Iyad Allawi speaks during a press conference in Baghdad on 8th June.
Former Iraqi premier Iyad Allawi speaks during a press conference in Baghdad on 8th June.
Diplomats and politicians, however, warned ahead of Monday's opening that a new government continues to appear some way off, and that it may be several months before the fine detail on the country's new leaders takes shape.
US forces are steadily being pulled out of Iraq and a new administration in Baghdad is seen as key to a smooth withdrawal of all American troops -- 88,000 remain in country -- by the end of 2011.
Former premier Iyad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc won most seats, 91, in the election, followed closely by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law Alliance, which won 89, but both have failed to build a coalition government.
In a sign that the political tempo may be speeding up, Allawi and Maliki held a long-awaited meeting on Saturday, which was described as "friendly and positive," according to a brief statement released by the prime minister.
Despite losing the election, Maliki has battled to retain his post, calling for multiple recounts of ballots he said were fraudulent, which delayed the certification of results until earlier this month.
State of Law has also formed a coalition with the election's third-placed grouping, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), in a bid to cancel out Allawi's narrow lead.
But the newly created National Alliance still remains four seats short of the 163 seats it needs for a majority in the 325-seat parliament, and has yet to name a leader it will put forward for the post of prime minister.
As a result, the selection of a new parliamentary speaker and president -- meant to precede the naming of a new premier -- is likely to be part of a grand bargain between Iraq's competing political blocs and religious groups.
And that will further delay the formation of a new government.
"I do not expect any government to be formed before Ramadan," said a senior Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, referring to the Muslim holy month which this year is set to begin in mid-August.
"If something happens on Monday, however, like the election of the speaker, that is a good sign, because that means there is broad agreement for the framework of a deal."
Delays to the formation of a coalition government have largely been attributed to the INA's refusal to countenance Maliki retaining his position.
State of Law have insisted that the incumbent, who garnered more votes than any other candidate in the election, serve another term.
Several MPs have likened the current government formation process to that which followed Iraq's first post-invasion parliamentary elections in 2005, when six months passed before a prime minister was chosen.
At the time, Iraq's competing religious groups jockeyed for key posts, with a Shiite taking the premiership, a Sunni Arab being named parliament speaker, and a Kurd becoming president.
"It took 41 days in 2005 (after parliament convened to form a government), because we had the same problem," said Mahmud Othman, an independent Kurdish lawmaker.
"It will take as long as the blocs take to agree on a deal."
US and Iraqi security officials have warned that a long period of coalition formation could give insurgent groups an opportunity to further destabilise the country, as happened in 2005.
Back then, an attack on a holy Shiite shrine triggered brutal sectarian conflict that only began to recede in 2008.
However, violence remains endemic in Iraq. Government figures showed 337 people were killed in unrest in May, the fourth time this year that the overall death toll has been higher than in the same month of 2009.

Sunday, June 13th 2010
Prashant Rao

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