Iraqi parties break off coalition talks

Iraq’s two main political blocs, led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and ex-premier Iyad Allawi, broke off coalition talks on Monday, dampening hopes of an end to a five-month-long post-election impasse.

A dozen civic groups, meanwhile, launched an audacious court action in a bid to break the deadlock over forming a new government, in the latest sign of growing popular discontent with Iraq’s political elite.

Maysoon al-Damaluji, a spokesperson for Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc, which narrowly won the March 7 poll, said the secular group objected to al-Maliki’s labelling of them as a “Sunni bloc”, in a television interview to be broadcast on Monday.

“We ceased negotiations with [al-Maliki’s] State of Law,” she said. “We are not a Sunni bloc, we are a nationalist project.”

However, Allawi’s party left the door open for a return to talks. “We have asked him to apologise.
Without an apology, we are not going to negotiate with him anymore,” she said.

While Allawi is a Shi’ite, like al-Maliki and the majority of Iraq’s population, his bloc claimed most of its electoral support from the predominantly Sunni regions of western and northern Iraq.

Iraqiya won the poll with 91 seats in the 325-member Council of Representatives, while State of Law finished with 89.

Neither bloc, nor two other major political groups that won substantial numbers of seats in the poll, has yet managed to form a governing coalition with the required majority, more than five months on from the vote.

Also on Monday, 12 charities and pressure groups brought a legal appeal to Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court against caretaker Parliament speaker Fuad Massum, accusing him of violating the war-wracked country’s Constitution.

They allege that by never formally closing the Council of Representatives’ first session, which was originally held on June 14, progress on the naming of a new speaker, the country’s president and prime minister has been impeded.

“We call on the Federal Court to require the defendant ... to end the open session as it violates the Constitution ... or call on the Federal Court to dissolve the Council of Representatives and carry out new elections,” the groups said in a news release.

While the Constitution stipulates that a speaker, president and premier must be elected in that order, analysts note the posts will likely be decided on jointly by Iraq’s main political groups as part of a grand bargain.

Massum, who holds his post by virtue of being Parliament’s oldest lawmaker, conceded that leaving the house’s first session open “was a violation of the Constitution, and ... I will stand before the court to defend my stance, and I will accept any ruling the court will make”.

The impasse comes as Washington withdraws thousands of troops ahead of a August 31 declaration of an end to combat operations, by which time 50 000 US soldiers will be left in Iraq, down from the current figure of around 64 000.—AFP

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