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Iraqis sue to stop paying lawmakers until leaders are seated

By Ernesto Londono and Ali al-Qeisi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, November 6, 2010; 9:20 PM

BAGHDAD - A group of Iraqi activists said Saturday that they have filed a lawsuit demanding that lawmakers return back pay and forgo future pay until they break the stalemate that has prevented the seating of a new government.

Iraq's 325 parliament members, elected March 7, have met once since they were sworn in last June. They have conducted no business other than closed negotiations over who is entitled to the prime minister's post and other top jobs.

Lawmakers collected a $90,000 yearly bonus and began receiving more than $22,000 per month, a sum that includes base pay and security stipends.

"Do you think it's right to give money to an employee who sits at home and doesn't do his or her job?" said Kifah al-Jawaheri, one of the plaintiffs.

The filing underscores the growing anger here toward elected officials, who many Iraqis say are putting their personal ambitions before the greater good of the country.

The plaintiffs, who include civil society and human rights organizations, filed their suit in the Baghdad District Court. It is unclear how soon the court might rule, but the move could add to the pressure on disputatious lawmakers as negotiations continue.

The same groups won a favorable ruling last month from the country's highest court, which compelled lawmakers to start meeting again. A session has been scheduled for Thursday, though if a compromise is not reached before then, dozens of lawmakers are expected to boycott it.

"Members of parliament have failed in their constitutional, patriotic and ethical duties," said Ali al-Anbori, the head of the Iraqi Gathering Organization, another plaintiff. "Public funds are sacrosanct, and their protection is the duty of each citizen."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, and his chief rival, former prime minister Ayad Allawi, are at odds over who is entitled to lead the new government.

Coalition leaders on both sides have met with senior Kurdish officials in recent days, and more meetings are scheduled ahead of Thursday's session. The Kurds are seen as the key swing group whose support will propel the next prime minister to power.

Many Iraqis fear that insurgents are exploiting the stalemate. On Saturday, more than 30 people were wounded in the northern city of Kirkuk in car bombings that appeared to target prominent Kurds, including politicians, Iraqi security officials said.

Special correspondent Aziz Alwan contributed to this report.

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