- Associated Press - Thursday, November 11, 2010

BAGHDAD (AP) — A Sunni-backed coalition walked out of Iraq’s parliament session in protest Thursday before a vote on the presidency in a move that cast doubt on the durability of an agreement to form a new unity government under Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Ayad Allawi, who heads the Iraqiya coalition, and the parliament speaker joined the walkout of about 57 Iraqiya members, which appeared designed to show the bloc’s power. Another block of Iraqiya members remained inside.

Just minutes before Allawi had been sitting next to al-Maliki in a rare display of political unity after a divisive political fight over the new government that stretched on for eight months.

The lawmakers had demanded that before parliament vote on the president, it vote first to formally dissolve decisions by a De-Baathification program purging former members of Saddam Hussein’s ruling party which had barred three of their members from taking part in government positions.

Their demand was rejected.

The parliament session continued in their absence, since the lawmakers still had quorum, and voting began for the presidency. Kurd Jalal Talabani is expected to easily win a second term. The vote for the presidency is a necessary step before a new government can be formed, under a deal forged Wednesday that keeps al-Maliki in power.

But the walkout underlined how fragile any government will be — and how reluctant Sunnis remain even after apparently agreeing to the deal, which gives them a role, but falls far short of their ambitions for greater political power.