BAGHDAD (AFP) – A power-sharing pact that saw Nuri al-Maliki named as prime minister-elect was looking frayed Friday after parliament ended in disarray over claims the deal was broken just hours after being sealed.
The dispute sparked a dramatic walk-out by a group of 60 MPs from a Sunni-backed bloc, underscoring the fragility of the agreement, which seeks to finally end Iraq’s political impasse eight months after elections.
As part of the deal, brokered during three days of intense talks, President Jalal Talabani, re-elected by MPs, named Maliki as the country’s prime minister on Thursday evening.
That was overshadowed, however, by a dispute that prompted angry members of the Iraqiya bloc to storm out of the Council of Representatives chamber.
The support of Iraqiya, which narrowly won the March 7 poll and garnered most of its seats in Sunni areas, is seen as vital to preventing a resurgence of violence. The Sunni Arab minority that dominated Saddam Hussein’s regime was the bedrock of the anti-US insurgency after the 2003 invasion.
“Last night, it was clear, there are a lot of disagreements,” independent Kurdish lawmaker Mahmud Othman told AFP on Friday.
“Last night showed that the agreement is shaky — maybe it was signed behind closed doors, and when it came into the open, one side did not support it. If this means Iraqiya will not be participating in the government, that will create problems.”
Attempts by AFP to contact Iraqiya MPs and officials were not immediately successful.
Thursday evening’s parliament session, only the second since the election, had begun optimistically with Maliki and Iraqiya leader Iyad Allawi sitting side-by-side in the parliament chamber.
But shortly after the selection of Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab and Iraqiya member, as speaker, verbal clashes erupted, with Iraqiya complaining that the power-sharing deal was not being honoured.
Specifically, it called for three of its top members, barred for their alleged ties to Saddam’s Baath party, to be reinstated before voting for a president.
When their demands were not met, some 60 MPs left the chamber. After some confusion, the remaining MPs began voting to re-elect Talabani. Maliki now has 30 days to form his cabinet, and the next parliamentary meeting is scheduled for Saturday.
“We boycotted the session because we showed good intentions to others, but they stabbed us in the back,” Saleh al-Mutlak, part of the trio Iraqiya wanted reinstated, told AFP.
“We will not return without international guarantees,” he added, without elaborating.
The power-sharing deal stipulated that a Sunni Arab hold the post of speaker, and that Talabani and Maliki retain their posts.
It also established a statutory body to oversee security as a sop to former premier Iyad Allawi, who had held out for months to take the job from Maliki after his Iraqiya bloc narrowly won the most seats in the March 7 polls.
Iraqiya has said its participation hinged on four conditions: a bill forming the security body, a committee examining cases against political detainees, codifying the power-sharing deal and annulling the bans against the three Iraqiya members.
Allawi has repeatedly accused Maliki of monopolising security decisions during his first term, and as far back as six months ago, US officials had floated the idea of a new counterweight to the power of the premier’s office as a way of breaking the deadlock over the top job.
US President Barack Obama on Friday hailed the agreement as a “milestone” in Iraq’s history.
The government will be “representative, inclusive and reflect the will of the Iraqi people,” he told a news conference at the conclusion of a G20 summit in Seoul, adding that Washington had long been lobbying for such a “broad-based government.”
The US military, which currently has fewer than 50,000 soldiers in Iraq, is due to withdraw all of its forces from the country by the end of 2011.