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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.

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But, on Monday, the Sadrists did not rule out breaking ranks with the new Shiite coalition announced just last week and backing Allawi, of the Iraqiya Party, as prime minister.

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"We need time to sort it out," says Baha al-Araji, a senior member of the Sadr bloc. "We have two problems – one inside the new bloc and the other with Iraqiya and the Kurds – I think we need at least two months to settle that." The Kurds are waiting to see who will emerge as the likely prime minister before conducting serious negotiations that will result in giving their support. Asked whether the Sadr bloc might support Allawi over Maliki, Mr. Araji says: "Everything is possible in the political world."

The political turmoil has unsettled the US, which is planning to withdraw combat troops in August. It has also raised fears of increased violence.

A bomb attack on Iraq's central bank headquarters on Sunday killed at least 18 people and wounded dozens more. The opening of parliament took place under extremely heavy security. Many of Baghdad's roads were closed. In the parliament building itself, Kurdish guards confiscated anything that could possibly be disguised an explosive, including chewing gum.

US role at parliament scrutinized

The US role in the chamber was as controversial as its ongoing role outside. Before today's session, members of the Sadr group met to decide whether to disrupt the opening if US Ambassador Chris Hill attended.

"We refuse his presence as they are an occupying country,” Maha al-Douri, a newly installed parliamentarian, said as she entered the Sadr group meeting. No protest materialized after it became apparent that Mr. Hill would be one of many diplomats present and had no formal role in the proceedings.

A leading Iraqiya politician meanwhile, called for US intervention to try to bring the parties together.

"The session today was a matter of protocol. I think the problem starts today," says Sheikh Adnan al-Dambous, a parliamentarian. "I believe Iraq will see difficult days in the near future and maybe the formation of the government will be delayed for more than two months – it needs the involvement of the Americans to calm the situation down," he adds, calling for the US to help mediate to bring the party's together.

Outside Iraqiya, which has strong Sunni support, many politicians reject that suggestion outright.

"Shame on us that after seven years we are still seeking the help of the international community to get us together in a round table to discuss the issue of our country," says Ms. Suhail, the parliamentarian from Maliki's State of Law coalition. "We keep announcing that we don’t want anyone to interfere in Iraqi decisions but to defend ourselves from this we should really start by having the will as Iraqis to get everybody together."

Mohammad al-Dulaimy contributed to this report.