BAGHDAD (AFP) – Hopes for an elusive deal to form a new government a full eight months after Iraq’s parliamentary election dimmed on Tuesday as key figures stayed away from all-party talks.
Former premier Iyad Allawi, whose Iraqiya party narrowly won the March 7 poll, was absent from the talks, state television reported, adding that Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni figure close to Allawi, was also a no-show.
“Iyad Allawi and Tareq al-Hashemi were absent from the meeting although other members of their list attended,” the report said.
Iraqi leaders held a first round on Monday in the Kurdish capital of Arbil, northern Iraq, but failed to agree on a proposed power-sharing accord in the run-up to a meeting of parliament scheduled for Thursday.
Faced with a list of thorny outstanding issues, they gathered on Tuesday at the Baghdad residence of Massud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government in the north.
But another of Iraq’s vice presidents, Adel Abdel Mehdi, a Shiite who is likewise opposed to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, left the meeting, delegates said.
Roz Nuri Shawis, an Iraqi deputy premier and Kurd who is close to Barzani, told a press conference that Allawi was only absent because of illness and would take part in the meetings on Wednesday.
However, an MP close to Allawi told AFP that Iraqiya’s leaders stayed away because they did not want to be coerced into selecting a speaker of parliament to kick off the process of forming a new administration.
Shawis earlier outlined the remaining areas of dispute.
Quoted in Al-Sabah newspaper, he pointed to demands for constitutional amendments, reforms in the functioning of government, guarantees for the Kurds and over the future of a commission that tracks down former regime officials.
Shawis, at Barzani’s request, initiated contacts with Iraq’s rival camps, leading up to the three days of meetings in Arbil and Baghdad.
After the Arbil talks, Iraqi newspapers were pessimistic. “Arbil Meeting: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back,” was the verdict of Ad-Dustur, an independent daily.
While Iraq’s Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders met in Arbil, three car bombings in Iraq’s mainly Shiite south killed 28 people on Monday, police and military sources said.
Maliki and his chief rival Allawi attended the Arbil meetings after a weekend agreement struck by the main Shiite bloc and a Kurdish coalition.
But their remarks on Monday indicated that neither man had backed down from their positions, prolonging a deadlock that has left Iraq without a government since the poll.
Against the background of a flare-up in violence since the end of October, Iraqiya members said their Sunni-backed party was being pressed to accept the post of parliament speaker.
The Kurds — kingmakers by virtue of their seats in parliament — have been shrewdly trying to extract as many concessions as possible from both sides in return for their support.
The Kurdish coalition has reportedly thrown its backing behind Maliki.
But Barzani said at the end of the first day of talks that his bloc’s final position on whom it backs as president, prime minister and parliament speaker will be announced after the Baghdad meetings.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh has said that under Saturday’s deal between the National Alliance, which represents the main Shiite parties, and the Kurdish coalition, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, would continue as president.
Maliki would continue as premier while Iraqiya would choose its candidate for parliament speaker, Dabbagh said on Sunday, while parliament would meet on Thursday to choose a speaker, the first step towards forming a new government.
Iraq’s second general election since the 2003 US-led invasion ended in deadlock after none of the main parties won enough of the 325 seats in parliament to form a majority government.
Parliament has since remained in hiatus, but on October 24 the supreme court ordered MPs to resume work and choose a speaker. The constitution stipulates that a speaker, president and prime minister must be elected in that order.