- Associated Press - Saturday, December 18, 2010

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's parliament took a major step Saturday toward creating a unity government, lifting a ban on three Sunni Muslim politicians who were barred from running in national elections last March after being accused of having ties to Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime.

The vote brings Iraq closer to ending months of political turmoil following the March 7 election, which failed to produce a clear winner. It also paves the way for broader Sunni participation in the emerging government, headed by Shi’ite incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Parliament voted 109-61 to allow former lawmaker Saleh al-Mutlaq and two other Sunnis to return to political jobs. Mr. al-Mutlaq, an al-Maliki critic and member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya political coalition that won the most seats in the March vote, is expected to take a government post instead of rejoining the legislature.

Iraqiya spokesman Haidar al-Mullah said Saturday’s decision sought to assure Sunnis they will not be sidelined in the new Shi’ite-dominated government. The two Muslim sects have fought bitterly for power after Iraq’s majority Shi’ites took control of the government that Sunnis ruled under Saddam.

“What has happened today is the starting point for more national reconciliation,” Mr. al-Mullah said.

Mr. al-Mutlaq was the most prominent of hundreds of candidates who were barred from the elections after a Shi’ite-led panel said they were loyalists to Saddam’s outlawed Ba’ath Party. Their blacklisting, part of a controversial process to weed Ba’athists from government, was seen as a thinly veiled attempt to bar Sunnis from returning to power.

Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the de-Ba’athification panel, said lifting the ban on Mr. al-Mutlaq and the other politicians was made possible by a decision last month by Iraq’s political parities to abolish the vetting commission entirely within two years.

“These politicians have the right to assume posts in the executive authority or in the government but not in the legislative authority or the parliament,” Mr. Chalabi said.

Shi’ite lawmaker Sami al-Askari told the Associated Press that lifting the ban was Mr. al-Maliki’s attempt to show he supports a power-sharing deal among Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds that was struck last month.

It “creates an atmosphere for participation in the government,” he said.

However, many Shi’ite lawmakers who dominate the 325-member parliament sat out the vote, remaining in the building’s cafeteria as the legislative session began Saturday morning.

At the session’s start, Mr. al-Maliki told parliament he would announce his new Cabinet on Monday — five days before a constitutional deadline. Parliament must then approve the candidates for 36 ministries, three deputy prime ministers and at least two vice presidents before the government can get to work.

In one key development, Shi’ite lawmaker Abdul-Hadi al-Hassani said Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, a Shi’ite, will keep his job overseeing Iraq’s most lucrative asset as the country struggles to revive its shaky economy after years of war and international sanctions. But Mr. al-Askari said officials are still undecided on posts in the defense and interior ministries that are crucial to stabilizing Iraq as U.S. forces prepare to leave by the end of next year.

Government formation stalled after the March vote, when Iraqiya edged Mr. al-Maliki’s political coalition by two seats. Mr. al-Maliki ultimately held onto his job by cobbling support from Kurds and religious Shiite hard-liners during months of backroom negotiations.

Led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, Iraqiya cried foul, saying it had the right to form the government since it won the most seats in the election. The bitter dispute was soothed this week when Mr. Allawi agreed to head a newly created council that allies said will give him veto power over al-Maliki’s security and foreign policies.

How much power the new council will have remains unclear, and parliament put off discussing it Saturday.

Associated Press writers Lara Jakes, Bushra Juhi and Saad Abdul-Kadir in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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