Iraqi president to call new parliament into session for first time on Sunday

Parliament will elect new head of state, prime minister, cabinet; political tensions abound.

Iraq's president said on Monday he would call the country's new parliament into session for the first time on March 12, starting the clock on a 60-day period during which the legislature must elect a new head of state and sign off on a prime minister and Cabinet. "We will call today (Monday) for holding the meeting on the 12th of this month because it is the last day that the constitution allows us to hold the meeting of the new parliament," Talabani told reporters. The constitution requires parliament to hold its first meeting no later than four weeks after the vote was certified, which occurred Feb. 12, nearly two months after the election was held. Iraq is in the midst of a political crisis, with its many parties deeply divided over the main Shiite bloc's decision to name Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to a new term. Reflecting the continuing dispute over al-Jaarari, parliamentarian Ali al-Adib, a leading member in al-Jaafari's Dawa Party, told The Associated Press that the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance "will ask for postponing the parliament's first session." "We want agreement on who will occupy the state's three top posts and after that the parliament can meet," al-Adib said. Alliance members planned to meet Talabani later Monday to discuss the political crisis, means for solving it and to seek a postponement of the first session. A coalition of Sunni, Kurdish and some secular politicians launched a drive last week to block al-Jaafari from continuing as head of government. Under the constitution, the Shiites' United Iraqi Alliance, the largest bloc in parliament, has the first crack at forming a government and chose al-Jaafari as its nominee for prime minister. But the Alliance has too few seats to act alone. Those hoping the Alliance will dump al-Jaafari are believed to support current Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi. Abdul-Mahdi lost in the Shiite caucus by one vote to al-Jaafari, who won with the support of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Abdul-Mahdi is backed by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, a powerful Shiite leader who is frequently at odds politically with al-Sadr. Both have strong militias behind them. Underlining the divisions within the Alliance, some Shiite leaders are troubled by al-Jaafari's ties to the radical and openly anti-American al-Sadr. The Sunni Arab minority, meanwhile, blames al-Jaafari for the Shiite militiamen who attacked Sunni mosques and clerics after the Feb. 22 bombing of the shrine in Samarra. More than 500 people died in the violence that followed, according to police and hospitals. Khalaf al-Olayan, a leader of the main Sunni bloc in parliament, said Iraq has gone from "bad to worse" under al-Jaafari. "Al-Jaafari's government failed to solve the chaos that followed the Samarra explosions and did not take any measures to solve the security crisis that could have pushed the country into civil war," he said in comments posted on the Web site of the Iraqi Accordance Front, a Sunni group. Kurds are angry because they believe al-Jaafari is holding up resolution of their claims to control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. "If al-Jaafari tries to form a government, he will not get any kind of cooperation," said Mahmoud Othman, a leading figure in the Kurdish bloc. Talabani, also a Kurd, was one of the first to publicly initiate the dump-Jaafari movement, calling for a candidate who could build consensus. Two lawmakers from al-Jaafari's Dawa Party hinted Saturday that they got an endorsement for their leader during a meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric. But a senior al-Sistani aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the dispute, said Sunday that the spiritual leader indirectly suggested al-Jaafari step aside.