- Associated Press - Monday, October 4, 2010

BAGHDAD (AP) — A Sunni-backed bloc that came first in elections seven months ago is united against the bid by Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to remain in office, a party spokesman said Monday, in another clear sign of deep divisions over efforts to end Iraq’s political impasse.

The pledge of solidarity against Mr. al-Maliki vividly shows the rifts since the March elections but means little to effectively block his bid to retain power.

Mr. al-Maliki is close to putting together a parliamentary majority after getting backing from hard-line Shi’ite factions and others. Support from Kurdish parties would give him a commanding coalition and the ability to begin forming a government.

The defiant stance of the Sunni-backed group threatens to shatter the fragile rapprochement between majority Sunnis and Shi’ites just three years since the country stepped back from the brink of sectarian civil war. It also is a direct blow to U.S. calls for a new government to represent all Iraqi rival groups and move ahead with reconciliation and desperately needed reconstruction projects.

Hayder al-Mulla, a spokesman for the Sunni-backed Iraqiya group, demanded that Mr. al-Maliki and his allies “give up the post” of prime minister to acknowledge the narrow election victory of Ayad Allawi, Iraqiya’s leader. Mr. Allawi served as prime minister after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

“The prime minister’s post is for all Iraqis and not for one sect or one party,” he said in a direct reference to the dominance of Shi’ites’ political affairs and security forces since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led regime.

Mr. Allawi’s coalition won the most seats in the March parliamentary elections but could not pull in enough partners to gain a majority in the 325-seat chamber.

The comments by the party spokesman also sought to counter reports of defections to Mr. al-Maliki’s side.

“Iraqiya says clearly it won’t participate in any government headed by al-Maliki. Our reservations over al-Maliki come out of the bitter experiences the past four years,” Mr. al-Mulla told reporters at a parliament press conference. The house has had only one informal session, which lasted 20 minutes, since March, in which lawmakers protested the postelection deadlock.

Mr. al-Mulla also warned that Iraq, under Mr. al-Maliki, would be mired in political feuds that could hamper efforts at luring foreign investment and complicate internal security cooperation as U.S. military force leave.

On Sunday, a key Sunni political leader in the northern city of Mosul told the Associated Press that a return of Mr. al-Maliki as government leader would destroy the country’s “last chance for democracy.”

“If Iraqis can’t get together to form a government that is in keeping with the election results, there will be no longer any kind of support for democracy. And in the future there will be no desire to join the democratic process,” said Atheel al-Nujaifi, governor of the northern Ninevah province.

The political maneuvering comes amid a wave of attacks targeting security personnel and government workers. The bombings and shootings, blamed on Sunni insurgents, is seen as an attempt to discredit Mr. al-Maliki’s leadership and tap into public frustration over the political bind.

In Baghdad, a roadside bombing targeted the convoy of a deputy minister in Iraq’s government, Fouad al-Moussawi, killing a bodyguard and wounding at least seven people, police officials said. Mr. al-Moussawi was unharmed.

In a separate attack in the capital, an employee at Iraq’s Public Works Ministry was wounded severely after a bomb attached to his car exploded, police said.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media.

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