- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2005

BAGHDAD — Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi yesterday criticized the winners of the January elections, saying they were “paralyzing” the country by failing to agree on the shape of a new government in the past weeks.

The new parliament will meet for the first time tomorrow in a session intended to usher in Iraq’s first freely elected national administration in decades.

But the two main political blocs — the Shi’ites and the Kurds — have yet to reach an agreement, plunging the country into a political limbo.

Talks between the two groups began last night in a marathon session intended to find a solution. But a Shi’ite spokesman said “differences” remained, and a Kurdish official said negotiations had “hit a dead end.”

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Mr. Allawi said the impasse was “paralyzing life in this country.”

“The country cannot remain as it is now. There are things that need to be done, and a decision needs to be arrived at,” said Mr. Allawi, who also tried to form a government but gave up his attempt to remain prime minister after failing to win enough support.

Mr. Allawi said the delay threatened national unity by frustrating ordinary Iraqis who turned out in the millions to demonstrate their commitment to the political process by voting.

“It should have been quicker. It has been unfortunate that the winners have not yet decided how and when,” Mr. Allawi said.

“I am not happy to be a caretaker prime minister. It is not good for the country. There must be a government. A decision has to be made and made very soon.”

The United Iraqi Alliance, the cleric-backed Shi’ite group that won a majority of seats in the parliament, and the Kurdistan Democratic Alliance, which came in second, met in Baghdad yesterday to try to break the deadlock.

The government has to be a coalition because the assembly must approve senior government posts with a two-thirds majority.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shi’ite, is the proposed prime minister. In return for Kurdish support, Jalal Talabani, the former guerrilla fighter, would be named for the largely ceremonial post of president.

The dispute is primarily over the future of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds want incorporated into Kurdistan, and Kurdish insistence that their peshmerga militia — not the Iraqi army — be responsible for the security of their semi-autonomous region.

A compromise reached last week, in which the future of Kirkuk would be determined after the government was convened, collapsed over the weekend when the Kurds announced that they wanted a written agreement before a coalition was formalized.

The two groups’ inability to agree can only provide political advantage for Mr. Allawi, whose Cabinet will remain as a caretaker government until a new one is announced.

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