Iraq's Maliki finishes Mideast tour, seeks support for 2nd term

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By Ernesto Londono
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 22, 2010

BAGHDAD - Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Thursday wrapped up a regional tour, apparently designed to secure support for a second term in office, with a visit to Turkey, a country with a growing financial stake in Iraq.

During a stop in Cairo earlier in the week, Maliki predicted that a new Iraqi government would be formed soon, although he did not spell out how the political impasse that has dragged on for more than seven months might be resolved.

"We are at the end of the tunnel," Maliki told reporters Wednesday after a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Although Iranian officials called Maliki "one of the suitable choices" for Iraq's premiership during his stop in Tehran, none of the foreign leaders he met with unequivocally endorsed a second term for the Shiite leader.

Maliki and rival Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite and former prime minister, are both trying to win the support of a simple majority of lawmakers to form the next government.

Maliki appears closer to that goal, having secured the key backing of the Shiite Sadrist movement. But negotiations among leaders of the two leading blocs and smaller ones since the March 7 vote have failed to break the deadlock.

Little news emerged from Maliki's closed meetings in neighboring countries, making it hard to gauge whether his trip bolstered his standing among Sunni Arab leaders, who have long viewed him warily.

"How strengthened Maliki emerges from his tour will depend on whether he received the overt or tacit endorsement of his candidacy," said Joost Hiltermann, an Iraq expert with the International Crisis Group.

Maliki arrived in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on Thursday, a day after a Turkish company made a strong showing at an auction in Baghdad for government contracts to develop Iraq's beleaguered but promising natural gas sector.

The state-run Turkish Petroleum is a stakeholder in two of the three consortia that won contracts awarded by Iraq's Oil Ministry. Turkish companies have also invested aggressively in Iraqi reconstruction projects.

The spokeswoman for Allawi's Iraqiya bloc criticized Maliki for discussing business deals with neighboring states during his tour.

"We have concerns about any agreements and promises he has given," Maysoon Damluji said Thursday night. "Any agreements made after March are not legitimate, because there is no parliamentary monitoring."


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