Iraqi leaders crack political deadlock

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By Leila Fadel and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 11, 2010

BAGHDAD - Iraq's political leaders reached a tentative deal late Wednesday to form a new government, apparently breaking the eight-month political stalemate that has plagued the country and giving a second term to Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The unexpected compromise, at the end of a more than seven-hour meeting, came after the largely Sunni-backed bloc of Iraqiya, which won the most votes in March parliamentary elections, begrudgingly agreed to back Maliki, according to a Kurdish official close to the talks and two prominent Iraqiya members.

But even as the deal was announced, some Sunni leaders expressed dissatisfaction, a potentially troubling sign for the United States as it moves toward the planned withdrawal of all of its forces by the end of 2011. A feeling of exclusion among Sunnis could prompt them to abandon the political process and renew an insurgency that has quieted significantly in recent years, although steady levels of violence continue.

U.S. officials had been pushing a power-sharing agreement between Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, and Maliki, whom they tacitly backed for prime minister over the summer. Officials saw it as a way to break the Shiite leader's monopoly on government authority and give the Sunni Arab minority a powerful role in Iraq's next government.

In Washington, administration officials said that the deal met many of their goals and that they were optimistic about its chances of giving all the country's major factions a say in the new government.

"This is a significant achievement, the result the Iraqi people voted for and a truly inclusive government" with "significant distribution of powers across the government," said Antony J. Blinken, national security adviser to Vice President Biden. Biden spoke with Maliki and Allawi on Wednesday.

Blinken said that, as a result of negotiations completed this week, Iraqiya and the Kurdish bloc had formed a "loose alliance" to ensure that Maliki did not renege on agreements allotting significant government positions to Iraqiya, including the parliamentary speakership and the chair of a proposed strategic council with authority to approve major government decisions.

"Both have the same interest in power-sharing," Blinken said of the Kurds and Iraqiya. "Together, they have the potential to pull down the government."

But some Iraqiya officials expressed disappointment in the deal and said that Maliki had made no real concessions.

Instead, the agreement seemed to some to be more in line with what Iran has been advocating - an Iraqi government dominated by Shiite religious parties.

"This is not the scenario the U.S. favored," said Joost Hiltermann, an Iraq expert from the International Crisis Group. "This is mostly in favor of Iran. We'll have to see what happens."

Blinken disagreed, saying that Iraqiya would be "a major player and full partner" and that the agreement was "a real setback for Iran."


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