Allawi's Sunni-backed bloc returns to parliament after walkout

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki now has until late December to form a cabinet, a process expected to be nearly as difficult as agreeing on who would be prime minister.

Iraq averted a new political crisis Saturday when the head of the main Sunni-backed bloc ended a walkout and returned to parliament, paving the way for the formation of a new government.

Ayad Allawi, head of the secular Iraqiya bloc, had walked out of the first session Thursday along with dozens of party members to protest what they said was the breach of an agreement to lift a ban on three of their members accused of Baathist ties.

“Iraqiya will take an active role in a government that will work towards real national participation within the agreements that we reached with the other political blocs,” Haider al-Mullah, a spokesman for Iraqiya, told reporters at parliament.

Mr. Mullah said the walkout on Thursday was due to a “misunderstanding.”

Iraqiya agreed in talks over the past week with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Kurdish leaders to join the coalition government if a series of conditions were met. They included a pledge to reform a controversial de-Baathification commission that had banned three prominent Sunni members of parliament from taking their seats.

The two-hour session on Saturday ended with agreements aimed at modifying the authorities of the prime minister and cabinet to add a balancing role for a new national security council which Mr. Allawi would head. The powerful new council is meant as a check on Mr. Maliki’s powers.

Allawi’s walkout threatened to jettison the carefully-formed coalition that has returned Maliki to power after securing the support of main Shiite blocs, including the party of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Kurds.

Allawi and his supporters argue that they should have headed the government since the bloc won two more seats than Maliki’s alliance.

The failure to agree on who would head a government led to an eight-month deadlock after Iraqis went to the polls in early March.

Maliki now has until late December to choose a cabinet – a process expected to be almost as difficult as agreeing on the prime minister’s post. The cabinet ministers are to be drawn from all of the major political blocs which supported him.

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