Iraq rivals in govt deal
Iraq's deeply divided political factions have sealed a power-sharing deal more than eight months after an inconclusive general election, paving the way for MPs to elect a speaker yesterday.
The deal, clinched late on Wednesday night after three days of high-pressure talks between the rival factions, sees Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shia, set to return for a second term, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, likely to retain the presidency and a Sunni Arab MP poised to be elected as speaker of parliament.
It also establishes a new statutory body to oversee security as a sop to former prime minister Iyad Allawi, who had held out for months to take the premiership from Maliki after his mainly Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc won narrowly more seats in the March election.
Washington had expressed mounting exasperation with the protracted coalition talks but had pushed throughout for a unity government that gave a stake to all of Iraq's ethnic and confessional groups, a goal it finally secured.
The agreement now paves the way for an end to a months-long power vacuum that had witnessed growing violence in the country.
Allawi's Iraqiya bloc confirmed it had finally signed up to the deal.
"I can confirm that there was an accord last night but I cannot give details," Iraqiya spokesman Intissar Allawi told AFP.
The support of the bloc, which won most of its support among the Sunni Arab minority that dominated Saddam Hussein's regime and has been the bedrock of the anti-US insurgency since the 2003 invasion, was seen as vital to prevent a resurgence of violence.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said that Iraqiya had agreed to accept the position of parliament speaker -- not the premiership or the presidency they had long sought.
"A power-sharing agreement has been concluded and parliament will meet at 3:00 pm (1200 GMT) to elect Osama al-Nujaifi as speaker," Dabbagh told AFP, referring to a Sunni MP from Iraqiya.
Kurdish politician Massoud Barzani, who brokered the deal, paid tribute to the 11th-hour concessions by Iraqiya that had made it possible and said he hoped its leader Allawi would now agree to head the new National Council for Strategic Policy.
"In the final minutes of Wednesday's meeting, our brothers in Iraqiya adopted a very responsible attitude by deciding to take part in the government and the parliament session," Barzani told a Baghdad news conference.
"I hope that the Iraqiya leader will agree to head the National Council for Strategic Policy as it is a position of great responsibility," added Barzani, who is president of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
He said the new body would have statutory powers and would take "the important strategic decisions."
Allawi had repeatedly accused Maliki of monopolising security decision-making during his first term of office and the prospect of a new counterweight to the power of the prime minister's office is seen as a major sop to Iraqiya.