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Iraqis greet new government with feelings of relief, betrayal

Many who voted for the Iraqiya coalition thought Iyad Allawi won March elections. Now, with him and his coalition sidelined, they feel cheated – and warn of renewed sectarian violence.

By Jane ArrafCorrespondent / November 12, 2010

Iraqi Kurdish residents celebrate after the re-election of Iraq's President Jalal Talabani in Sulaimaniya, northeast of Baghdad, Nov. 11.

Reuters

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Baghdad

Iraqis woke up to a new government Friday but the relief of breaking a record political deadlock was tempered by many Sunni voters' sense of betrayal and more widespread worry that the coalition is too fragile to last.

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After a five-hour session of parliament Thursday, lawmakers eventually sealed the deal hammered out by political leaders in closed-door negotiations, electing a speaker and president and paving the way for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to form a coalition government.

It had been more than eight months since Iraqis went to the polls in the first post-war elections in a truly sovereign Iraq. The voters, many of them saying they were tired of the empty promises of religious candidates, gave former prime minister Iyad Allawi secular Iraqiya coalition two more seats than Mr. Maliki’s Shiite bloc.

But neither won nearly enough seats to form a majority, prompting ballot recounts, accusations of fraud, and months in which political leaders flew off to other countries but didn’t meet amongst themselves.

Thursday’s parliament session marked one of the very few occasions in the past eight months on which Maliki and Allawi sat side by side. But halfway through the session Allawi and dozens of his members walked out over three Iraqiya candidates being barred from taking their seats because of alleged Baathist ties. Maliki and other leaders had promised in prior negotiations to work towards lifting the ban but it wasn't raised in Thursday's parliamentary session.

Sunni participation in this government is seen as crucial to the country’s stability, making the involvement of Allawi's Sunni-backed coalition vital. The government vacuum is blamed for much of the recent violence but incorporating disenfranchised Sunnis into the political system is needed for any long-term stability.

Many Iraqiya supporters feel betrayed

The deal reached among political leaders restores Maliki and President Jalal Talabani to their previous positions but appears to sideline Allawi, giving him control of a proposed national strategy council. Those who voted for his bloc believe they won the elections. Now many feel cheated.

“It’s unfair. We were hoping Dr. Ayad Allawi would become prime minister, that the whole situation would change. Now nothing will change,” said Abdul Nasser, a paramedic who was one of dozens of civil defense workers deployed outside parliament in case of an attack Thursday night.

He and his partner sat in the dark in the front seat of their ambulance, listening glumly to the session live on the radio. Abdul Nasser, who did not want his full name used, said they had hoped that voting for Iraqiya would end the injustice of prisons full of Iraqis held without charge. Many of the prisoners are from Sunni areas that were insurgent strongholds but have simply been lost in the system.

“A lot of people have been harmed by the bureaucracy, harmed in the streets – it’s important to us that things change,” he said.

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