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Iraq parliament sits; politicians say new government months away

Three months after elections, Iraq's parliament met for the first time in a short meeting to swear in new members. Politicians say negotiations on forming a new government could still be months away from completion.

By Jane ArrafCorrespondent / June 14, 2010

Iraqis watch Speaker Fouad Massoum on TV at a cafe in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday. Iraq's new parliament was sworn in Monday but postponed a decision on a new president as the country remains in political limbo three months after elections.

Karim Kadim/AP



Iraq’s parliament was sworn in Monday in an abbreviated session that some politicians said marked the beginning of greater political problems.

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Almost all the 325 members gathered along with foreign diplomats at Saddam Hussein's former convention center to pledge to protect Iraq's sovereignty and independence.

"The will of the people has been implemented," acting Speaker Fouad Massoum said in opening the second parliamentary term since Mr. Hussein was toppled. The chambers were a sea of tribal robes, business suits, head scarves, and glittering Kurdish dresses. Many of the Kurdish members made a point of reciting the oath of office in Kurdish rather than Arabic. Some members said this was the first time in memory that President Jalal Talabani, himself Kurdish, had missed a major ceremony.

Mr. Talabani's absence was part of the attempt to keep the session as perfunctory as possible, according to Mr. Massoum.

The session ended after less than 20 minutes. As expected, a new speaker was not chosen. Iraq's factions continue to negotiate over who will take key posts in the next government, including prime minister and president. To bypass a constitutional requirement that a speaker and two deputies be chosen at the first meeting, the session was technically left open.

"This is a message that the serious negotiations start today," Safia Suhail, a leading figure in Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki's State of Law coalition and a member of parliament, says in an interview after the parliamentary session.

More than three months after the election and a manual recount of more than 2 million ballots, there is still no agreement between political leaders as to who actually won. Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's secular coalition maintains that the two-seat lead he won in the election entitles him to head a government while Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's new Shiite alliance formed after the poll argues that its greater number of seats gives it that right.

"This follows the constitutional requirement but we also hope it will accelerate the process of forming the government," Sadeq al-Rakabi, one of Mr. Maliki's advisers, says about the opening of parliament. Under the new Constitution, parliament has to convene within 15 days of the certification of the final election results. What happens afterward regarding choosing a prime minister is open to interpretation.

"There are many, many confusing [issues] in the articles of the Constitition and that is why we have so many disagreements," Mr. Massoum told the Monitor in an interview following today's session.

Sadr bloc may back Allawi

While popular on the streets, Maliki has run into strong opposition from other political parties. The Sadr bloc, loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his late father, is particularly adamant that Maliki not be prime minister again because he sent Iraqi troops to fight Mr. Sadr's Mahdi Army in Basra and Baghdad. Mr. Allawi, a secular Shiite and prime minister in 2004 and 2005, is also opposed by the more religious parties. The Sadrists favor another former prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaffari.