Allawi comments boost Iraq government prospects

By Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 19, 2010; 1:08 PM

BAGHDAD -- A series of developments that have lifted hope that Iraq might soon end its nine-month odyssey in trying to form a new government continued Sunday when former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi gave his strongest public indication yet that he intends to become head of a new national council overseeing strategic policy.

His comments increased speculation that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could take the critical step of nominating a majority of cabinet ministers as early as Monday.

Allawi's Iraqiya bloc of Sunnis and secular Shiites won the most votes in the country's March election. But Allawi was out-maneuvered by Maliki, who built a coalition of Shiites, Kurds and anti-American Sadrists large enough to control a majority in the new parliament.

Allawi had previously suggested he might not accept the council position if it did not come with sufficient powers to serve as a check on Maliki's government. But following what Allawi said was a productive three-and-a-half hour dinner meeting with Maliki, the former prime minister and Iraqiya members said it was more important that the head of the council and the prime minister work together.

The parliament is scheduled to meet Monday morning. If Maliki does not form a government by Christmas, he risks losing his chance to do so, and the process could start over.

(READ: Iraq's main Sunni bloc to participate in government)

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