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Sunni-backed bloc ends boycott of Iraq parliament

A Sunni-backed political bloc ended its boycott of Iraq’s parliament Sunday, a boost for Prime Minister Nouri ­al-Maliki, a Shiite, as he tries to consolidate power in the wake of the U.S. troop departure.

But key members of the bloc, Iraqiya, continue to boycott meetings of the cabinet, and Maliki has indicated that he will replace them if they do not return.

Maysoon al-Damluji, a spokeswoman for Iraqiya, said during a news conference Sunday that the bloc’s parliamentary members will return this week. In doing so, they hope to “defuse the political crisis,” she said, according to Reuters, and move forward on a national summit among the country’s leaders.

Friction between Iraqiya — a secular group that also includes Shiites — and Maliki has brewed for months but boiled over six weeks ago as U.S. troops were withdrawing. Iraqiya, which held 82 of parliament’s 325 seats, started its boycott Dec. 17 to protest what it described as Maliki’s increasingly dictatorial behavior. Two days later, officials from Maliki’s Interior Ministry announced terrorism charges against Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a leader of the Iraqiya bloc — escalating the conflict into a crisis.

U.S. ‘design’ blamed

At issue is a teetering power-sharing arrangement brokered by U.S. officials that was designed to guarantee key cabinet positions for Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. Maliki is said to despise the arrangement. His critics say he is driven by sectarian motives, but his supporters say that he is hampered by constant opposition and that he just wants cabinet members who will work together.

It is unclear what Iraqiya has accomplished. On Sunday there were indications that its members were not on the same page — with some saying that their return to parliament was permanent and others saying that it was temporary until budget and amnesty issues are settled.

The political battles are playing out in a country torn by discontent — as underscored by polling and survey data in a report prepared for release Monday by U.S. auditors. The typical Iraqi household receives only 7.6 hours of electricity a day from the public grid, according the U.S. Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, citing survey work done last year by the Iraq Knowledge Network.

And in a Gallup poll, the percentage of Iraqis who rate their lives poorly enough to be considered as “suffering” rose from 14 percent in October 2010 to 25 percent last September, according to the inspector general’s report.

Iraq’s deputy prime minister for energy, Hussain al-Shahristani, said in a recent interview that 12 power plants are under construction and that the country will have enough electricity within 24 months.

“The country is in a big shortage,” Shahristani said, but “as we go through 2013, there will be sufficient power generation.”

Special correspondent Aziz Alwan contributed to this report.

Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County. He arrived at the paper in 2005, after reporting stops at the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun and Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is the author of The Yoga Store Murder.

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