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Maliki to Stay as PM, But Leaders Cut His Powers

Iraq’s Stalemate Ends

by PATRICK COCKBURN

Iraqi leaders have ended eight months of political stalemate by supporting the reappointment of Nouri al-Maliki as Prime Minister but have sought to rein in his authority.

The country’s parliament met yesterday and was expected to return  Maliki for a second term. The parliament is also to pass a charter defining the Prime Minister’s authority and seeking to ensure the cabinet makes decisions, not the Prime Minister alone.

"In recent years, Maliki hijacked the authority of the state, concentrated decision-making in the Prime Minister’s office, and set up military and intelligence units answering directly to him," said an Iraqi source. "Methods of preventing this happening again have been widely discussed among other Iraqi leaders."

The Iraqi parliament was also expected yesterday to return Jalal Talabani as President and the powerful Sunni politician Osama al-Nujaifi as the Speaker of Parliament.

A Sunni-backed coalition of 57 members, including the Speaker, Ayad Allawi, walked out of in protest before the vote. Their action underlines how fragile any new government might be.

Iyad al-Allawi, the former prime minister backed by Sunni Arab countries and Turkey, is the main loser from the new agreement. He will head a newly created council for strategic policy, to which other Iraqi leaders will belong. It will be able to veto government policies if 80 per cent of council members vote to do so. Given the fractiousness of Iraqi politics, such a consensus will be difficult to achieve and the council may turn out to have little real power.

The allocation of ministerial posts will be agreed over the next month with Sunni politicians hoping to secure the job of Foreign Secretary that has long been held by Hoshyar Zebari, a senior Kurdish leader. And in a further effort to satisfy different parties and communities, the number of deputy prime ministers may be increased.

The new power-sharing agreement essentially reappoints the Shia-Kurdish coalition that has ruled Iraq since 2005 but with the Sunni given more power.  Nujaifi, who controls the Sunni-majority city of Mosul in northern Iraq, will be an ambitious new player in Baghdad.

Allawi, a secular Shia leading the mainly Sunni al-Iraqiya party, sought to be prime minister himself after the March 7 election, but some factions in his party are seeking an agreement with the government.

Allawi has no real constituency of his own.  Maliki rebuilt his relations with Iran and the main Shia religious parties. Much will now depend on how far Maliki keeps the agreements he has reached with other parties to stay in power. The Kurds, Sadrists and Sunni will all be wary of him reneging on his promises.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of "Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq