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Iraqi Politicians Seal Deal On New Government


Kurdish President Masud Barzani speaks during a news conference in Baghdad today.
It's taken eight months, but the Iraqi parliament convened for a session to name a new speaker and two deputies, setting in motion the process of forming a new government.

Osama al-Najeifi, a Sunni Arab deputy from Mosul and a member of the Al-Iraqiyah political bloc, was elected speaker.

That was just the second time since parliamentary elections on March 7 that the 325-seat parliament met.

Iraq has also been without a permanent government since the inconclusive election as the political bloc that won the vote had been unable to form a ruling coalition.

Today's parliament session was made possible by an agreement reached late on November 10 between Iraq's major political factions, following days of talks in the northern city of Irbil and the capital, Baghdad.

Speaking to reporters in Baghdad, the president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, Masud Barzani, said the deal included agreement on nominees for prime minister, president, and speaker of the parliament as part of a "national partnership" government.

According to the deal, the Shi'ite-led coalition of Nuri al-Maliki will get the prime minister's post -- giving him a second term -- while Kurd Jalal Talabani will retain the presidency.

The Sunni-backed cross-sectarian Al-Iraqiyah bloc of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, which finished first in the March elections, would get the speaker's post in the national assembly, while Allawi himself would head a new council with some security responsibilities.

The move was welcomed by the United States and is likely to please neighboring Iran, which had pushed for another term for Maliki.

In a statement, Al-Iraqiyah said its participation hinged on several conditions, including: a bill forming the new body; examination by a committee of cases against political detainees; and annulling bans against three Al-Iraqiyah members for their alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

"Today is a day that all the Iraqis were waiting for," a female Baghdad resident told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq. "We only hope that the politicians will think about the people and will think about this country, which has suffered during more than eight years and was mostly suffering during these last eight months while waiting for the formation of the government. We hope that the government will keep the promises it made to the people."

Under Iraq's constitution, parliament must choose a speaker and two deputies, then name a president who will then name the leader of the coalition with the greatest number of seats in parliament to form a government within 30 days.

Allawi had pushed hard to displace Maliki as prime minister, saying any sidelining of his alliance could ignite Sunni anger and reinvigorate a weakened but still lethal Sunni Islamist-led insurgency.

'Big Step Forward'

Allawi had also accused Iran of putting pressure on Iraqi leaders to keep the incumbent prime minister in office, while Maliki had accused the former prime minister of pandering to Sunni Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia.

Barzani addressed that issue in his remarks earlier today. "I cannot deny that there were international and regional pressures, without a doubt," he said.

"Many times, there were consultations and there were opinions and suggestions, which sometimes reached the degree of pressure. But the Irbil and Baghdad meetings have conveyed a clear message that Iraqis have to solve their own problems in Baghdad, Irbil, Basra, Mosul, and Najaf and other cities and not anywhere else."

Antony Blinken, national security adviser to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, called the agreement to form an inclusive government a "big step forward for Iraq."

He said Iraqi leaders had "negotiated and apparently agreed to a major redistribution of powers that creates real checks and balances against the abuse of power by any one group."

Washington has called for a unity government that gave a stake to all of Iraq's ethnic and confessional groups.

Scores have been killed in bomb attacks this month on Shi'ite and Christian neighborhoods and cities across Iraq.

A series of bombings targeting Christian areas killed at least five people in Baghdad on November 10, two weeks after militants laid siege to a church in Baghdad in an attack that killed more than 50 Christians.

written by Antoine Blua, with contributions from RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq and agency reports
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