Monday, November 29, 1999

Iraq`s Shi`ite-led groups edge closer to government

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Iraq's two main Shi'ite-led electoral blocs have agreed to rein in the power of the prime minister, potentially paving the way for a deal on a government more than three months after an election, party officials said.The Shi'ite mega coalition formed by a merger of the two blocs has also won over other small factions that would give it a working majority in the 325-seat parliament and much-needed involvement by representatives of minority Sunnis.Sunni participation in the next government is viewed as crucial for ensuring Iraq does not slide back into broader sectarian conflict as U.S. forces wrap up combat operations in August ahead of a full withdrawal next year."We have accepted the conditions and standards that were established," Ali al-Adeeb, a senior member of incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawa party, told Reuters this week."It is a coordinating procedure. The two coalitions will jointly monitor the movements of the prime minister, watch him and support him at the same time," said Adeeb, head coalition negotiator for Maliki's Dawa-led State of Law bloc.No one won the March 7 parliamentary election outright, leading to prolonged jostling among political groups over forming a governing coalition and distributing posts.A cross-sectarian list headed by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi won the most seats after receiving strong backing from Sunnis who dominated Iraq under dictator Saddam Hussein. Its leaders say they have the right to try to form a government.But since the election, Maliki's State of Law has combined with the Iran-friendly Iraqi National Alliance (INA) to set up a Shi'ite-led National Alliance super-bloc, becoming the biggest group with just four seats short of an overall majority.Emerging from sectarian warfare unleashed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Iraq desperately needs stable governance to foster economic growth on the back of massive oil deals.Iraq's new parliament convened on Monday for the first time. The inaugural parliamentary session was a major step forward but coalition talks are still expected to last for many more weeks."INSTITUTIONALISE" PM POSTThe only position that does not appear to be disputed is that of the president, politicians say. Almost everyone assumes outgoing President Jalal Talabani will be reappointed because of the clout of his Kurdish bloc and its 43 seats.The main impediment among Shi'ite factions to a swift deal has been Maliki's desire for a second term.Powerful factions within the INA oppose his ambitions and have sought to clip his wings in return. The emergence of an initial agreement on limiting the prime minister's powers does not guarantee Maliki's reappointment.Qusay al-Suhail, a senior member of anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's movement which controls around 40 of the INA's 70 seats, said the alliance sought to "institutionalise" the prime minister's post, meaning its powers would be exercised by a political group rather than an individual.One of the measures proposed by Maliki's rivals and agreed to by his allies would be to appoint three deputy prime ministers, each from a different faction and each in charge of one of three major portfolios -- security, finance and services.Another proposal involves picking a number of aides and advisors to the prime minister from parties other than Maliki's.In addition to the growing internal consensus, the Shi'ite alliance has struck initial agreements with two small groups representing Sunnis, which could add around nine seats to the National Alliance's 159, alliance officials said."We have an agreement with two Sunni groups as well as with (ourselves)," said Haider al-Abadi, a senior Dawa lawmaker. "We did not announce it but there is (an agreement)."(Editing by Michael Christie and Peter Graff)

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