BAGHDAD (AFP) – The two men vying to lead Iraq broke off talks on Monday aimed at forming a government after an unseemly quarrel over their blocs’ sectarian roots, five months after general elections.
In yet another disappointing development for the war-torn nation’s citizens, suffering persistent power cuts and a lack of reconstruction, election winner Iyad Allawi demanded an apology from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
A spokeswoman for Allawi’s broadly secular Iraqiya coalition said it was ceasing talks with Maliki after the incumbent labelled them a “Sunni bloc,” in a television interview to be broadcast on Monday.
“We ceased negotiations with (Maliki’s) State of Law,” Maysoon al-Damaluji told AFP. “We are not a Sunni bloc, we are a nationalist project.”
However, Allawi’s party left the door open for a return to talks. “We have asked him to apologise. Without an apology, we are not going to negotiate with him anymore,” she said.
While Allawi is a Shiite, like Maliki and the majority of Iraq’s population, his bloc claimed most of its electoral support from the predominantly Sunni regions of western and northern Iraq.
Iraqiya won the March 7 election with 91 seats in the 325-member Council of Representatives, while State of Law finished with 89.
Neither bloc, nor two other major political groups which won substantial numbers of seats in the poll, has yet managed to form a governing coalition with the required majority, more than five months on from the vote.
In an apparent sign of simmering public discontent with Iraq’s political elite over its failure to form a government, meanwhile, a dozen civic groups launched a court bid to break the political deadlock.
The 12 charities and pressure groups brought a legal appeal to Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court against caretaker parliament speaker Fuad Massum, accusing him of violating the war-wracked country’s constitution.
They allege that by never formally closing the Council of Representatives’ first session, which was originally held on June 14, progress on the naming of a new speaker, the country’s president and prime minister has been impeded.
“We call on the Federal Court to require the defendant … to end the open session as it violates the constitution … (or) dissolve the Council of Representatives and carry out new elections,” they said in a statement.
While the constitution stipulates that a speaker, president and premier must be elected in that order, analysts note the posts will likely be decided on jointly by Iraq’s main political groups as part of a grand bargain.
Massum, who holds his post by virtue of being parliament’s oldest lawmaker, conceded that leaving the house’s first session open “was a violation of the constitution, and … I will stand before the court to defend my stance, and I will accept any ruling the court will make.”
The impasse comes as Washington withdraws thousands of troops ahead of a August 31 declaration of an end to combat operations, by which time 50,000 US soldiers will be left in Iraq, down from the current figure of around 60,000.
US and Iraqi officials warn that insurgent groups may use the lack of a new government to step up their attacks, with more people dying from violence in July than any month since 2008.