- Associated Press - Thursday, November 11, 2010

BAGHDAD | Iraq’s president gave Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki the nod to form the next government Thursday after an eight-month deadlock, but a dramatic walkout from Parliament by his Sunni rivals cast doubt on a power-sharing deal reached by the two sides less than a day earlier.

The walkout underlined the Sunni minority’s reluctance over the prospective new unity government outlined in the deal, which ensures continued Shiite domination while giving Sunnis a role far short of the greater political power they seek.

Sunni support for any new government is key. The Americans had been pushing for them to have a significant role, fearing that otherwise, disillusioned Sunnis could turn to the insurgency, prompting new violence as the last of U.S. troops prepare to leave by the end of next year.

The power-sharing deal reached Wednesday night was heralded by some politicians as a breakthrough, ending the months of wrangling since the inconclusive March 7 Parliament elections. But Sunnis already are accusing Mr. al-Maliki of not fulfilling promises and have warned they could pull out if they are not met.


At a press conference after the walkout, a lawmaker from the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, Haider al-Mulla, did not answer when asked whether the bloc would participate in the government. Instead, he said Iraqiya would seek “explanations from al-Maliki and State of Law over their broken commitments.”

Parliamentary workers count votes to elect a speaker in Baghdad. Iraq's Parliament approved key leadership positions in a first step toward forming a new government. A breakthrough deal returns Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to office for a second term but falls short of Sunni hopes for greater political power. (Associated Press)
Parliamentary workers count votes to elect a speaker in Baghdad. Iraq’s Parliament ... more >

The Parliament session began late Thursday with a show of unity, as Mr. al-Maliki and his top rival, Iraqiya’s leader Ayad Allawi, sat next to each other in the chamber. The session was called so lawmakers could take the first formal steps toward forming the new government by naming senior leadership positions.

The first vote went smoothly, with a Sunni from Mr. Allawi’s Iraqiya block, Osama al-Nujaifi, elected Parliament speaker.

But before the vote to elect a president, 57 Iraqiya lawmakers walked out. They had demanded that lawmakers first vote to reverse decisions by a De-Baathification Law barring three of the bloc’s members from holding government posts, but their demand was rejected.

Iraqiya lawmakers have said that as part of the power-sharing deal, the other factions agreed to get rid of the controversial De-Baathification Law entirely within two years. Sunnis view the de-Baathification process as a thinly veiled Shiite attempt to bar Sunnis from returning to power.

Despite the walkout — which Mr. Allawi and the Parliament speaker joined — lawmakers still had quorum and proceeded with the session. They elected Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as president for a second term. Mr. Talabani addressed the lawmakers remaining in the Parliament hall, declaring, “Today is a day of victory, the victory of the free Iraqi will.”

He then took the constitutionally required step of formally requesting that Mr. al-Maliki form a new government.

Mr. al-Maliki has 30 days to do so, as the factions work out the allotment of ministry positions, including key posts like foreign affairs and the interior ministry in charge of security forces.

Even if the power-sharing deal holds, it could potentially be a setback for the U.S., which had been pushing for a greater Sunni say in power, and a boost for regional rival Iran.