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Iraq: Political divisions threaten to delay first parliament session - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, center, waits for US Secretary of State John Kerry ahead of a meeting at the prime minister's office in Baghdad, Iraq, on Monday, June 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, center, waits for US Secretary of State John Kerry ahead of a meeting at the prime minister’s office in Baghdad, Iraq, on Monday, June 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraqi political blocs are facing sharp divisions over whether to hold or postpone the first session of parliament scheduled to take place on July 1 amid ongoing disagreements over the election of a new government, including the posts of president, prime minister, and speaker of parliament.

The widening divisions between Iraq’s political parties comes as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country’s top Shi’ite cleric, called on Iraqi politicians to choose a new prime minister before the new parliament meets.

The State of Law coalition, led by Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, has asked for the session scheduled for Tuesday to be held on time and for a new president and parliamentary speaker to be chosen as soon as possible. The State of Law coalition’s call comes as the Shi’ite-led National Alliance is seeking to put forward candidates to contest Maliki’s premiership bid, while the Kurdistan Alliance bloc has been unable to decide on a presidential candidate to replace Jalal Talabani. Iraq’s political system traditionally sees a Kurd take the presidency, a largely ceremonial position, with a Shi’ite Muslim as prime minister.

However, the Wataniya bloc in Iraq’s parliament, headed by former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, has now called for parliament’s first session to be postponed on the basis that Iraq does not need a national partnership government, but a national salvation government that includes all Iraqis regardless of the results of April’s elections. Maliki had previously rejected the idea of a national salvation government, saying this represents a “coup against the constitution.”

“The policies of marginalization, exclusion, political sectarianism, and elimination have taken the country to where it is today,” the Wataniya bloc said in a statement on Friday, proposing a “roadmap” to save Iraq.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Kurdistan Alliance spokesman Muayad Al-Tayeb said: “The president of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, has formed a committee including various Kurdish leaders to confer with the Iraqi leaders on the formation of the next government.”

“The committee will meet before Tuesday to decide whether or not the Kurds will join the session,” Tayeb added.

The Kurds are increasingly looking to distance themselves from the Baghdad central government following the advance of fighters affiliated to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) throughout the country. Kurdish Peshmerga forces have been successful in securing Kurdish territory, including taking over the long-disputed city of Kirkuk.

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials have rejected a third term in office for Maliki, with KRG president Massoud Barzani affirming a “new reality” and a “new Iraq.” Speaking to CNN last week, Barzani said: “The time is here for the Kurdistan people to determine their future, and the decision of the people is what we are going to uphold.”

Speaking of the Kurdish candidate for the post of president, Tayeb told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Although there are several Kurdish candidates for this post, this does not constitute a big problem. The Kurds will be able to put forward their candidate after the other blocs have settled on their candidates, particularly for the premiership.”

The Shi’ite-led Iraqi National Alliance has already put forward two alternative candidates to Maliki, who is seeking a controversial third term in office.

Maliki’s State of Law coalition, which won the highest number of seats in the April elections, is a key component of the Shi’ite electoral coalition, but the Sadrist Movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) are refusing to back Maliki as the National Alliance’s sole candidate.

Amir Al-Kinani, a senior figure in the Sadrist Movement, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The Sadrist Movement and ISCI have agreed to put forward Adel Abdul Mahdi and Ahmed Chalabi as candidates for the post.”

Abdul Mahdi served as Iraq’s vice president during 2005–2011 and is a member of ISCI, led by Shi’ite cleric Ammar Al-Hakim. Chalabi is a controversial figure within Iraqi politics, particularly over his role in the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. He served as interim oil minister in 2005 and led the de-Ba’athification campaign following the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime.

Kinani said: “The National Alliance will ask the State of Law coalition to withdraw the nomination of Maliki and choose an alternative. In the event that the National Alliance cannot agree on a single candidate, we will go to parliament with more than one candidate and the issue will be resolved in a vote.”

“This will be the last resort in case the State of Law coalition continues to hold onto Maliki. This is something that could ultimately finish off the National Alliance,” he added.