Obama lauds 'inclusive' Iraq gov't amid frictions

Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc debates boycott of next parliamentary sessions, as increasing Shi'ite domination is seen to favor Iranian influence.

November 12, 2010 19:03
3 minute read.
Sunni members of walkout of Iraqi Parliament

311_sunni walkout in Iraq. (photo credit: Associated Press)

BAGHDAD — US President Barack Obama praised Iraqi moves to form an "inclusive" government on Friday, but the two-day-old deal was already looking fragile after Sunni lawmakers walked out of parliament, clouding the possibilities for working with Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Members of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc have accused al-Maliki's Shi'ite coalition of breaking promises under the deal, which aimed to overcome an eight-month deadlock and allow the creation of a new Iraqi government.

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Jaber al-Jaberi, an Iraqiya lawmaker from the Sunni stronghold of Ramadi, said members of the bloc were meeting to decide whether to boycott the next session of parliament, which was scheduled for Saturday.

They were seeking assurances that al-Maliki's loyalists will vote to reverse a ban on three Iraqiya lawmakers prevented from taking up government posts for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's banned Baathist party.

Iraqiya has accused the Shi'ite alliance of violating an agreement to abolish the controversial de-Baathification law. A refusal to bring the issue up for a vote during Thursday's parliament session prompted most members of the Sunni-backed bloc to walk out, dampening the optimism about a power-sharing deal reached the day before.

Some Shiites in Baghdad celebrated with gunfire Thursday night after al-Maliki secured a second term. That was in contrast to the mood after the March 7 elections, when Sunnis took to the streets and waved Iraqi flags as they rejoiced over Ayad Allawi's narrow election victory.

Members of the Sunni minority said they were being squeezed out of a major role in power, fearing the new government would just be a continuation of the last four years of Shiite dominance with a strong role for the Shiite parties' ally Iran.

Recent development favors Iranian influence

Washington has sought a greater Sunni role in the new government, fearing that otherwise disillusioned members of Iraq's Sunni minority could turn toward the insurgency, fueling violence.

Obama was to speak Friday with al-Maliki, a day after speaking with Allawi, said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser. In his conversations, Obama "stressed the need for Dr. Allawi, other members of Iraqiya, and representatives from all of the winning blocs to hold leadership positions," Rhodes said Obama made no mention of the Sunni walkout; a US official speaking on condition of anonymity late Thursday because of the sensitivity of the talks downplayed the Sunni exodus from parliament. He attributed it to political showmanship but acknowledged the fragile nature of the agreement for the two sides to work together.

The head of the Guardians Council, one of Iran's top clerical ruling bodies, praised al-Maliki's return to power and described it as a blow to neighboring, mainly Sunni Arab countries who opposed al-Maliki.

"Under God's will, the Iraqi people showed their wisdom and vigilance," Ahmad Jannati said in a sermon during Friday prayers in Teheran.

Oddly enough, both the US and Iran had been working toward the same goal: an al-Maliki to return to power. But they differed strongly on the degree to which the Sunnis would be involved in the new government, with Iran pushing for only token Sunni participation and the US lobbying for a real partnership.

As al-Maliki accepted Talabani's nomination for a second term after the Sunnis walked out, it appeared Iran had prevailed.

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