Iraqi PM to stay on as political deadlock ends
By REBECCA SANTANA, Associated Press – 15 mins ago
BAGHDAD – Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will return to power for another four-year term after Iraqi lawmakers working late into the night Wednesday agreed on a deal to form a new government, lawmakers said.
The deal breaks an eight-month impasse that paralyzed the government and raised fears insurgents were taking advantage of the political deadlock to stoke violence. Members of the Sunni-backed secular coalition that had been so vehemently against al-Maliki in the end resigned themselves to serving in his government.
"Finally, fortunately, it's done. It's finished. All the groups are in it," said Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman, who took part in the nearly seven hours of negotiations Wednesday along with talks the previous two days.
An official in the Sunni-backed coalition, Iraqiya, confirmed that a deal had been reached. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.
The general outlines of the deal are that President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, will keep his largely ceremonial job and that Iraqiya will choose the parliament speaker, according to lawmakers familiar with the deal.
The compromise plan would also create a new council with authority over security issues, although it was not immediately clear exactly how much. The council was an idea promoted by U.S. officials as a way to keep Iraqiya in the government. If the council proves to have real authority, that could serve as a small victory for Iraqiya.
It was also unclear what role, if any, Iraqiya's leader, former prime minister Ayad Allawi, would play in the government.
Ever since the March 7 vote, Iraqi lawmakers have tussled back and forth over who would lead the new government. Iraqiya was able to capitalize on widespread Sunni frustration with the Shiite-led government to get 91 seats in the election, compared to 89 for al-Maliki's bloc.
But despite Iraqiya's bragging rights as the victor, it was never able to find the political partners it needed for a majority, and recently al-Maliki gained momentum as he gathered new allies, like followers of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
It was uncertain what role al-Sadr or his hard-line Shiite faction might play in a new government. U.S. officials have been worried that al-Maliki's partnership with them would open the door for direct Iranian influence in Iraqi affairs and derail pro-Western security and commercial policies.
Also unclear is whether the Kurds, who have played the role of kingmaker in Iraqi politics since the fall of Saddam Hussein, won any concessions besides keeping the post of president.
The Kurds had wanted firm guarantees in exchange for their support, including a referendum to decide control of the oil-rich region around Kirkuk. The area lies just outside the Kurds' semiautonomous zone, but they are part of a three-way contest for influence along with ethnic Turks and central authorities in Baghdad.
Earlier Wednesday, suspected Sunni militants took aim again at Baghdad's dwindling Christian community, setting off a dozen roadside bombs and sending terrified families into hiding behind a church where walls are still stained from blood from an attack nearly two weeks ago.
Five people were killed and 20 were wounded in the bombings and mortar attacks that targeted Christians across the city, police and hospital officials said. Iraqi Christians are already reeling after the earlier attack on a Sunday Mass service left 68 people dead, and many are now wondering whether it's time to leave their homeland.
At a house on the grounds of Our Lady of Salvation Church, Karim Patros Thomas was under no illusion that the community is under siege.
On Oct. 31, Thomas' brother-in-law bled to death on the church floor after militants stormed the building, shot congregants in the first row, held others hostage and then set off bombs when Iraqi forces came to the rescue. Then Wednesday morning, two bombs went off in quick succession outside his home.
"We are terrified," Thomas said, who sought refuge with his family Wednesday at the church. "I cannot go back to my house. They will attack again. They want to kill us."
Associated Press writers Barbara Surk and Yahya Barzanji in Sulaimaniyah contributed to this report.