Sunni group walks out of Iraq parliament

On March 7, 2010, millions of Iraqis voted to elect lawmakers who will rule the country for years as U.S. forces withdraw. The election was marred by dozens of attacks that killed nearly 40 people and underscored the security problems the incoming government will face.

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By Leila Fadel and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 11, 2010; 3:29 PM

BAGHDAD - The largely Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc walked out of a critical parliamentary session Thursday to protest what they said was a broken promise by other political blocs.

The walkout dealt a setback to what was expected to be a turning point in the impasse that has paralyzed Iraqi politics since inconclusive elections in March. After the departure of Iraqiya, which won the most seats in Iraq's parliament by a slim margin, the remaining 232 lawmakers continued to a presidential vote without them - a move that observers feared could cause a national crisis. Thursday's session had been expected to go smoothly after all major blocs agreed late Wednesday to participate based upon mutual understandings.

After the speaker of the parliament, Osama Nujaifi of Iraqiya, was elected along with two deputies, members of Iraqiya asked that details of the blocs' agreement be discussed in the session, specifically, a promise to lift a ban keeping four Iraqiya members from participating in the government. The men had been banned under the controversial Justice and Accountability law that bars members of Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party from government and security ranks - a law many believed was used to politically cripple Iraqiya before the election. After lawmakers voted not to discuss the issue before the vote for the presidency, all of Iraqiya's representatives except the new speaker streamed out.

"We will not participate in the political process, we will not join," said Jaber al-Jaberi, a top Iraqiya official. "This is a sign of many broken promises to come."

Nujaifi, the new speaker, later walked out, as well, saying there was no "trust," but he subsequently returned and voted for the president.The lawmakers elected Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, who was immediately sworn in.

"This is not a crisis," said Sami al-Askari, a member of incumbent Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's political bloc. "We're continuing because we have a quorum."

The walkout occurred in the midst of a White House briefing called to tout the agreement as a victory and as "a big step for Iraq."

"This is a government that is made in Iraq," said one of two senior administration officials who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity. "It is not the result of influence or work of any outside actor, any outside country."

Iraqis "negotiated very difficult issues themselves, and they came to an agreement," he said.

The officials credited Massoud Barzani, the president of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, with organizing the negotiations that led to the breakthrough. They acknowledged high-level calls from Washington, including calls from President Obama over the past week in which he appealed to the Kurds to relinquish the presidency to Iraqiya.

"We tried to be as helpful as we could," one official said, adding, "We've had conversations, many of us, exploring all options, and this was one of them."

In the interim, he said, the Iraqis came up with the agreement announced Wednesday.


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