Iraq's new parliament convenes but defers on appointing leaders

By Leila Fadel
Washington Post staff writer
Tuesday, June 15, 2010; A06

BAGHDAD -- As Iraq's new parliament convened more than three months after the national elections, the falafel vendor just outside the towering walls of the Green Zone remained resolutely unimpressed. Like many Iraqis, Raad Kadhim Nouri, 35, doesn't think much will change for the better anytime soon.

He and most of his customers had walked for hours in 120-degree heat because many roads across the city were closed to secure the sometimes-volatile capital.

"Where is the security if, for an 18-minute session, they close all the streets?" asked Nouri, who has been selling sandwiches at the popular Haider Double Falafel fast-food joint since 1990. "It means there is no security."

Behind the Green Zone's concrete fortifications, where most Iraqis aren't allowed, the parliament actually met for less than 18 minutes in what U.S. and Iraqi officials hailed as a historic accomplishment. Officials and analysts say that the formation of Iraq's next government, which is to rule as U.S. troop levels drop, is likely months away.

While Nouri served sandwiches to legislators' security details and Iraqis walking to government buildings, the parliament members took an oath, postponed their first task -- choosing the president -- and quickly adjourned. Now, the ruling elite will probably spend weeks negotiating backroom deals to divvy up Iraq's top jobs.

Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was supposed to speak, along with the Iraqi president and the speaker of the parliament, officials said. But when Ayad Allawi, the secular Shiite whose Iraqiya bloc won the plurality in Iraq's March 7 elections, demanded time equal to Maliki's, the speeches were canceled. Since the elections' results were announced, the two have been at odds over who will form Iraq's next government.

The Sadrists, as followers of anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are known, had registered a complaint because U.S. Ambassador Christopher R. Hill would attend the session, but they still showed up.

Nouri has been slinging fried chickpea patties into hot bread for decades here. He once got into an altercation with a relative of dictator Saddam Hussein and was jailed for two years. After the U.S.-led invasion that deposed Hussein, he closed the shop for three months. When it reopened, he had a front-row seat to the gate that leads into what he called the "mysterious" Green Zone. He has never been inside.

Nouri said the parliament members are likely oblivious to the fact that he gets only one hour of electricity every five hours.

"Nothing will change from the last parliament," he said. "We don't even know why they're meeting. All we know is the roads are closed."

He has lost count of the number of bombings that have damaged his store -- the last one just six months ago. Violence has dropped drastically since the darkest days of Iraq's sectarian war, but there's been an uptick in attacks during the political limbo following the elections.

"There is no electricity, can you believe this?" said Turki Ali Hamza, a customer of Nouri's. He had lost power for three days in Iraq's blistering summer.

Just across the street from him, security guards for legislators ate as they waited for their bosses to be sworn in.

"Those people brought the violence," Nouri said of the Iraqi politicians in the Green Zone. Many of them were exiles who returned after Hussein was deposed.

"Yes, it is between them," Hamza responded.

"Frankly, I don't expect anything good from them," Nouri said. "I just want one thing. I don't want the mystery. They should open every single closed door and every single closed window."

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