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Sunday, May 14, 2006

IRAQ: SHIITE LAWMAKER THREATENS TO FORM GOVERNMENT UNILATERALLY

BAGHDAD---Efforts to create a national unity government in Iraq stumbled Sunday as a member of an influential Shiite alliance bloc threatened to form a new government unilaterally if rival groups did not scale back their demands. Sunnis said they may withdraw from the process entirely.

Under the constitution, Prime-Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki faces a May 22 deadline to form a government. Lawmakers have struggled with this task for months, hoping a new government will cool escalating sectarian tensions between Iraq's Shiite majority and the Sunni Arab minority.

As the 275-member parliament convened Sunday, Bahaa al-Araji, a lawmaker loyal to the radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, denounced what he said was continued U.S. meddling in the selection of ministers for coveted Interior and Defense Ministry posts. He set a dealine of two days before the 130 alliance deputies act unilaterally.

"Within the past two days, the occupation forces have been interfering with certain names and certain posts," said al-Araji, whose group holds 30 seats. "There are also blocs participating in the (formation of) the government that have begun demanding more than what they are entitled to electorally."

"We have set a limit of within two days, and the (various) blocs should abide by this timeframe and act in accordance with the rules upon which we have agreed. Otherwise, we will form a government without regard to their demands," he said, singling out the Sunni Arab Accordance Front as one example.

Sunni lawmakers shot back with their own threats, with one member of the three-party Sunni Arab coalition that holds 44 seats threatening to walk out of the talks and the government.

"If we do not get what we deserve, we will end our participation in the political process," Lawmaker Salman al-Jumali told the Associated Press. "Our representatives in parliament, and the officials already awarded ministerial posts will withdraw."

He said they wanted the Defense, Education, Planning and Health ministries, among others.

Earlier, anonther member of the United Iraqi Alliance, the Fadhila Party, rebuffed a call by al-Maliki to return to the Cabinet formation negotiations, saying the political process was marred and that the incoming government would be little more than an amalgam of personalities out of tune with the needs of Iraqis.

"We wish the people would understand our stance---a long-standing one for the party," said Sheik Sabah al-Saedi, a spokesman for the party which hold 15 seats. The parties "must be honest and just in evaluating the issues and reporting them to the people because history will bear witness."

Last week, Fadhila said it was withdrawing from the talks, arguing that the process was being driven by self-interests, sectarianism and U.S. pressure.

The group had earlier said that it was also frustrated by a rejection of its bid for the Oil Ministry. But Sunday's news conference, al-Saedi said they would not come back, "Even if they were given the Oil Ministry now."

Fadhila's withdrawal, coupled with the threats by the Sadrists and al-Jumaili, casts further doubts that al-Maliki can meet the May 22 deadline.

Lawmakers have said that without unanimity on key posts, al-Maliki may announce a partial Cabinet and hold temporary control of the Interior Ministry and Defense ministries until suitable candidates are agreed upon.

U.S. officials have said they would like to see independents, unaffiliated with Iraq's various violent militias, hold those two posts. This has led some lawmakers to accuse the United States of meddling.
(*The U.S. needs to practice what they preach!)

Al-Araji said the Accordance Front is "demanding more than what they are entitled to," and stressed that the Iraqi List, a secular faction headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, was also evaluating its continued role in the negotiations.

"There are no problems within the alliance. But there is uncertainty within the Iraqi List whether to (continue) participating and today will reach a decision," al-Araji said.

Source: USA Today
Associated Press Writer
May 14, 2006

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