Wednesday, February 13, 2008

BAGHDAD (AP) — The speaker of Iraq’s fragmented parliament threatened yesterday to disband the legislature, saying it is so riddled with distrust that it appears unable to adopt the budget or agree on a law setting a date for provincial elections.

Disbanding parliament would prompt new elections within 60 days and further undermine Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s shaky government, which is limping along with nearly half of the 40 Cabinet posts vacant.

The disarray undermines the purpose of last year’s U.S. troop “surge” — to bring down violence enough to allow the Iraqi government and parliament to focus on measures to reconcile differences among minority Sunnis and Kurds and the majority Shi’ites. Violence is down dramatically, but political progress languishes.

Iraq’s constitution allows Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the quick-tempered speaker and a member of the minority Sunni faction, to dissolve parliament if one-third of its members request the action and a majority of lawmakers approve. Mr. al-Mashhadani said he already had sufficient backing for the move from five political blocs, but he refused to name them.

Mr. al-Mashhadani blamed the lack of a budget on Kurdish politicians, who have refused to back down from a demand that their regional and semiautonomous government be guaranteed 17 percent of national income.

The 17 percent formula for Kurds was applied to past budgets, but some Sunni and Shi’ite lawmakers had sought to lower it to 14 percent.

The Kurds said they feared being double-crossed on the budget.

Earlier in the day, radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s office condemned the kidnapping of two CBS journalists in the southern city of Basra, while Iraqi police said an intensive search was under way for the men.

Separately, a 27-year-old Iraqi journalist who disappeared after leaving his office two days ago to buy some supplies was found fatally shot yesterday in central Baghdad.

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