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Iraq Mulls Ways To Resolve Government Standoff

Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi
BAGHDAD -- Iraqi political factions are considering several proposals to resolve the government crisis that erupted after an arrest warrant was issued for Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi on terrorism charges, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

The standoff between Hashimi, a leading Sunni figure in Iraq, and the Shi'ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki began less than two weeks after U.S. forces completed their withdrawal from the country.

Hashimi says the charges against him are "politicized" and he has fled to Iraq's northern Kurdish region. The party he belongs to, Al-Iraqiyah, has boycotted cabinet meetings and the fragile coalition government of Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish political blocs is endangered.

Mahmud Othman, a leading member of the Kurdish parliamentary bloc, told RFI on December 29 that the proposed solutions by parliament to resolve the crisis include the leaders of Maliki's State of Law (SoL) and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's Al-Iraqiyah parliamentary blocs agreeing to a new partnership arrangement; Maliki imposing majority rule by discarding the current consensus agreement; and early elections.

Maliki has threatened to resort to majority rule, which actually would be the rule of the Shi'ite demographic majority rather than the political majority. That would exclude Sunni political blocs from the ruling coalition.

Othman said the proposal for early elections made by the movement loyal to the radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr seem impractical, as it would involve compiling new voting rolls, passing a long-awaited law on parties and associations, and amending the election law itself, to which different groups have raised objections.

Haytham al-Jaburi, a lawmaker from Maliki's SoL, told RFI that a majority government is a last resort, although SoL's partners in the National Alliance increasingly support the idea.

Jaburi said a more encouraging proposal is the joint call by President Jalal Talabani and parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi for a national conference to be held. He cited U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's success in persuading political leaders to begin talks as grounds for optimism that a useful conference could be held.

Ahmad al-Alwani, a leading figure in Allawi's Al-Iraqiyah bloc, told RFI that the crisis will most-likely not be resolved by new elections or a change to majority rule.

He said an "honest discussion" by political leaders of the problematic issues in "the hope of reaching a new beginning based on mutual trust" seems a more promising alternative.

But Baghdad-based political analyst Wathiq al-Hashimi told RFI that even a proposed national conference is in doubt in light of Maliki's refusal to travel to Irbil, one prospective venue for the event.

Kurdish Regional Government President Masud Barzani, for his part, has likewise said he will not attend such a conference in Baghdad.

Hashimi said agreeing on a venue acceptable to both leaders may salvage the conference proposal, an idea that he said is backed by virtually all of the various Iraqi political factions.