Sunni-backed bloc agrees to role in Iraqi government

By Leila Fadel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, November 14, 2010

BAGHDAD - The Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc returned to parliament Saturday, two days after walking out on a critical session in which Iraq's top three leaders were named.

The bloc's departure had alarmed U.S. observers and officials, who worried about its implications for a political deal brokered this week, more than eight months after inconclusive elections.

But Iraqiya, which won more seats in the elections than any other bloc, attended Saturday's afternoon session after a meeting of bloc leaders that Iraqiya lawmakers described as positive. Iraqiya representatives added that they would participate in a government led by Shiite incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, despite having said earlier that they could not trust their political partners and would not take part in a government.

"Thursday was a misunderstanding and miscommunication between the blocs and leaders," said Jaber al-Jaberi, a prominent member of Iraqiya. "We want an inclusive national government supported by all blocs, and Iraqiya will join the government."

The return did not include Iraqiya's leader, secular Shiite Ayad Allawi, who told CNN on Friday that he would "not be a part of this theater," adding: "I am thinking of forming a council for opposition from inside parliament to start building the issues that we think are right for this country and to use all possible peaceful means to achieve the objectives."

Allawi called the power-sharing agreement, which included appointing him head of a theoretical strategic council with undefined powers, "a joke." His bloc walked out of Thursday's session after lawmakers rejected its request to vote on specific elements of the agreement .

"They don't have the intention to really work on a power-sharing formula," Allawi told CNN. "We don't want to be puppets for a government that does not respect the will of the people."

The political deal is described as a power-sharing agreement but in practice is expected to do little to temper Maliki's power, an outcome that both Iraqiya and Iraq's Kurdish alliance had sought. Allawi is supposed to lead a national council on strategic policies, a yet-to-be-formed executive body that would have 20 members, including Maliki and Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, who was reappointed Thursday. But Allawi would need 80 percent consensus from the council to make a decision, an almost impossible task among political factions in Iraq.

Allawi left for London on Saturday, and it was unclear whether he would take the position, given his comments Friday. Unity has been Iraqiya's biggest challenge, with the group agreeing to the deal with Maliki and the Kurds only after concerns that it would splinter if it didn't.

Osama al-Nujaifi, an Iraqiya member, was named speaker of parliament, and the bloc will probably be given a few key ministries in Maliki's administration. The deal also touched on national reconciliation and curbing a controversial law that prohibits former members of Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath Party from holding government or security jobs.

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, said Saturday that it was hard to predict how the past week's political developments would affect security.

"We knew that as we approached government formation we'd see an increase in activity," he said, referring to a spate of attacks last week, including the siege of a Catholic church, that left more than 118 people dead.

Austin called the political progress positive but noted that the Sunni extremist group al-Qaeda in Iraq "always had an impressive ability to regenerate."

"We're still at the early stages," he said, adding, "We can expect some turbulence from now until the government is formed."

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