By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, October 24, 2010; 7:00 PM
BAGHDAD - Iraq's Supreme Court on Sunday ordered parliament members to meet, calling the government formation impasse that has dragged on for more than seven months unconstitutional.
The ruling could add a sense of urgency to negotiations among political factions, because the court set a two-week deadline to resume parliamentary sessions.
But the move is unlikely to force parliament members to resume legislating because many intend to boycott sessions until bitterly divided political factions agree on a ruling coalition.
The court's ruling has the potential to deepen the political crisis here if the Iraqiya bloc, which won the most seats in the March 7 vote, refuses to attend sessions, leaving its largely Sunni constituency feeling disenfranchised.
"All members of parliament should abide by this decision," said Judge Abdul Sattar al-Beeraqdar, a spokesman for the country's judicial branch. "It will be a constitutional breach if they don't."
Fouad Massoum, the acting speaker of parliament, said he would abide by the ruling and schedule a meeting soon.
"I'm not going to disobey this decision," Massoum, a Kurd, said in a telephone interview. "I will call for a session. But if the majority of parliament doesn't show up, I won't be in charge."
Parliament's only session since the March 7 elections, held in June, was adjourned after a few minutes because members said they weren't ready to elect a new speaker, the first step to form a new government.
Many Iraqis have become frustrated with their politicians' inability to reach a consensus as government services worsen and insecurity remains rampant. The delay has raised questions about the viability of a democratic system in Iraq as the U.S. military disengages from the country.
The ruling was brought about by a lawsuit filed by civic society organizations.
The two blocs that received the most votes have been fighting over whether Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or one of his predecessors, Ayad Allawi, is entitled to lead the new government.
Iraqiya, the bloc led by Allawi, a secular Shiite favored by Sunnis, won the most seats. But Maliki, whose State of Law coalition came in a close second, appears nearer to getting a simple majority in parliament to nominate him for the top post.
Khalid al-Asadi, a lawmaker in Maliki's coalition, expressed enthusiasm about the ruling.
"This decision will be obligatory for all of us," he said. "We will all submit to it."
Asadi said he thought lawmakers were close to striking a deal in which President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Maliki, would remain in their posts. Allawi's slate, he said, needs to select someone to be parliament speaker.
"We might choose a temporary one until Iraqiya makes up its mind and names one," he said.
Iraqiya spokeswoman Maysoon Damluji said the bloc's 91 lawmakers would not adhere to the court's ruling.
"We will not attend a meeting of parliament unless a deal has been made," she said in a telephone interview.
Iraqiya contends that it is entitled to form the incoming government and has accused Maliki in the past of using the courts for political gain.
Special correspondent Aziz Alwan contributed to this report.