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Updated: November 12, 2010 09:09 IST

Iraq elects President, Speaker amid Sunni bloc walkout

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Iraq's President Jalal Talabani speaks during a parliament session in Baghdad on Thursday. Talabani gave Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki the nod to form the next government on Thursday after an eight-month deadlock.
AP Iraq's President Jalal Talabani speaks during a parliament session in Baghdad on Thursday. Talabani gave Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki the nod to form the next government on Thursday after an eight-month deadlock.

Iraq ended eight months of political deadlock on Thursday when Parliament elected a Speaker and a President for the country, under a complex political deal that and paves the way for the formation of a new government.

Incumbent President Jalal al-Talabani, from a Kurdish party, would remain in his post for another term after winning 195 out of the 213 ballots cast in a second round of voting.

“I appoint the dear Nuri al-Maliki to form the new government,” Mr. Talabani said after being sworn in, referring to the incumbent premier, a Shiite Muslim from the Dawa party.

Parliament had earlier voted Iraqiya List member Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab nationalist, as its Speaker. The only candidate named for the position at the start of the session, Mr. al-Nujaifi received 227 out of 295 votes cast.

The Presidential voting went into a second round after Mr. Talabani failed to obtain the two-thirds majority constitutionally necessary to win the post in the first set of ballots.

His election took place after most of the Iraqiya List, which has the largest number of seats in the legislature, walked out of the chamber over a disagreement surrounding agenda issues, in a sign of the internal strife between Iraq’s parties.

Some members, including the new Speaker, later returned to the floor, but party chief Iyad Allawi, who came out weakest in the new deal, left the building.

It was only the second session of parliament since the March elections, with the first meeting in July lasting less than 20 minutes.

A political deal reached on Wednesday night, after seven hours of tough negotiations, had decided on the distribution of the roles of Prime Minister, President and Speaker of parliament between the various ethnic, religious and political blocs.

Allotment of ministerial posts was also expected to follow a similar pattern, though parliament has a month to fill the jobs.

The premier’s aides said their leader would convene a new cabinet after the upcoming three-day Eid al-Adha festivities, which ends on November 18.

“Al-Maliki will officially assume his role as head of the Iraqi government after the Eid holidays,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on the regional news network al-Arabiya.

After grabbing the role of Speaker of parliament, former Prime Minister Allawi’s secular Iraqiya List was also expected to get the Foreign Minister’s portfolio.

Mr. Allawi himself, according to officials, would head a national council on strategy, a role which leaders were working behind the scenes to define, but was meant to serve as a check on the government.

Reports say U.S. President Barack Obama asked Mr. Allawi to take the job and agree to end the country’s power struggle.

Mr. al-Maliki, who heads the broader Shiite-majority State of Law coalition, which won 89 of the 325 seats in elections in March, exuded confidence on Wednesday as the deal came to light.

“We will not only experience the birth of a new government but even the beginning of the rebuilding of the Iraqi state,” he said.

However, al-Iraqiya had hoped its leader Mr. Allawi, a secular Shiite, would get the premiership and there were signs of dissatisfaction within its ranks as details of the power-sharing deal were released.

“We are the largest faction, according to the election results, and if the others have divided the positions among themselves, that would mean that democracy in Iraq is over,” said Abdul Qadir Mahdi, an Iraqiya List parliamentarian.

The new government will have to tackle a rising wave of violence, which in recent weeks has again taken on an overt sectarian tone, and the other neglected legislative issues, including crumbling infrastructure across the country.

Adding to the matter, Iraqi citizens are already sceptical of their elected officials after waiting for so long to end up with a similar leadership lineup to that which the country had prior to the March 7 election.

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