BAGHDAD, Iraq -Iraq’s president said Monday that he would call the country’s new parliament into session for the first time on March 12, beginning a 60-day countdown during which the legislature must elect a new head of state and sign off on a prime minister and Cabinet.
The constitution requires parliament to hold its first meeting no later than four weeks after the vote was certified, which occurred Feb. 12, nearly two months after the election was held.
“We will call today for holding the meeting on the 12th of this month because it is the last day that the constitution allows us to hold the meeting of the new parliament,” President Jalal Talabani told reporters.
Iraq is in the midst of a political crisis, with its many parties deeply divided over the main Shiite bloc’s decision to name Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to a new term.
A coalition of Sunni, Kurdish and some secular politicians began a drive last week to block al-Jaafari from continuing as head of government.
Reflecting dispute over al-Jaarari, parliamentarian Ali al-Adib, a leading member of the prime minister’s Dawa Party, said the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance “will ask for postponing the parliament’s first session.”
“We want agreement on who will occupy the state’s three top posts and after that the parliament can meet,” al-Adib told The Associated Press. Alliance members planned to meet Talabani later Monday to discuss the political crisis and request the postponement.
The Shiite Alliance, which has the first crack at forming a government as the largest bloc in parliament, chose al-Jaafari as its nominee for prime minister.
But the Alliance has too few seats to act alone. Those hoping the Alliance will dump al-Jaafari are believed to support Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi.
Al-Jaafari defeated Abdul-Mahdi by one vote in the Shiite caucus with the support of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Abdul-Mahdi is backed by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, a powerful Shiite leader who is frequently at odds politically with al-Sadr. Both have strong militias behind them.
Underlining the divisions within the Alliance, some Shiite leaders are troubled by al-Jaafari’s ties to the radical and openly anti-American al-Sadr.
The Sunni Arab minority, meanwhile, blames al-Jaafari for the Shiite militiamen who attacked Sunni mosques and clerics after the Feb. 22 bombing of the shrine in Samarra. More than 500 people died in violence that followed, according to police and hospitals.
Kurds are angry because they believe al-Jaafari is holding up resolution of their claims to control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq.
Talabani, a Kurd, was one of the first to publicly initiate the movement to drop al-Jaafari, calling for a candidate who could build consensus.
Two lawmakers from al-Jaafari’s Dawa Party hinted Saturday that they got an endorsement for their leader during a meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric.
But a senior al-Sistani aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the dispute, said Sunday that the spiritual leader indirectly suggested al-Jaafari step aside.