Iraqi political leaders have reached the framework of an agreement for a new government that would end the country’s eight month-long political deadlock, a senior Iraqi official said late on Wednesday.
“It looks a lot like the old government,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Monitor.
Under the agreement hammered out Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would retain his post, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani would remain president, and the position of speaker would go to a Sunni. Osama al-Nujaifi, a member of the Iraqiya bloc headed by former prime minister Ayad Allawi was a leading candidate for the position.
Mr. Allawi himself, who has insisted that he head the new government, was expected to decide on Thursday whether to accept a position as head of a new strategic security council that would play a key role in decisionmaking.
The Iraqi parliament is scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon after being called back by a court order. Under the Constitution, it must elect a speaker in its first session. The speaker’s position was part of a package being hammered out in talks between the political blocs on the elements of a coalition government.
Iraq’s divided political leaders met Monday for the first time since March elections in a bid to break an eight-month deadlock that has left Iraqis with no new government and vulnerable to escalating violence. The meeting, in the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his main rival, former prime minister Iyad Allawi, and the leaders of the major Shiite and Kurdish blocs, was meant to jump-start serious negotiations over forming a coalition government.
Political leaders have come under increasing pressure to meet since an Iraqi court ordered parliament to convene.
Senior Iraqi officials have said that the US, in calls from President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, had been pressing Mr. Talabani to step aside as president and give that post to Allawi. A government without the participation of his Al Iraqiya bloc would risk alienating Sunni Iraqis and could increase sectarian tension.
As the meeting between political leaders adjourned Wednesday night, their convoys of armored four-wheel drive vehicles accompanied by security vehicles with flashing lights sped through the green zone. Iraqi Russian-made tanks rumbled by the blast walls.
Rocket attacks against the green zone have increased in recent weeks along with bombings of Shiites and Christians that many Iraqis blame partly on the political vacuum created by the months-long inability of leaders to form a new government.