Baghdad (AFP) Aug 16, 2010
The winner of Iraq's general election broke off coalition talks with his main rival for the top job after a spat on Monday, dealing yet another blow to the war-torn country five months after the polls.
In the latest disappointing development for the country's citizens, already suffering persistent power cuts and a lack of reconstruction, election winner Iyad Allawi demanded an apology from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Illustrating widespread public discontent with Iraq's political elite over their failure to form a government, meanwhile, a dozen civic groups launched a court bid to break the deadlock.
A spokeswoman for Allawi's cross-sectarian Iraqiya coalition said it was ceasing talks with Maliki after the incumbent labelled them a Sunni bloc in a television interview to be broadcast on Monday.
"We ceased negotiations with (Maliki's) State of Law," Maysoon al-Damaluji told AFP. "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 Shiite, like 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.
Maliki said that Iraqiya "represents the Sunni component, we are talking frankly," according to snippets of the interview with US-funded Arabic broadcaster Al-Hurra.
"If a government is formed without that component... the state will not be stable," he added.
The latest dispute dampens already faint hopes that a government would be formed in the coming weeks, with analysts expecting no new administration to be in place before the end of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in mid-September.
Iraqiya won the March 7 election 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 which 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.
In an apparent sign of simmering public anger, twelve charities and pressure groups brought an appeal to Iraq's highest court against caretaker parliament speaker Fuad Massum, accusing him of violating the 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) dissolve the Council of Representatives and carry out new elections," they said in a statement.
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 60,000.
US and Iraqi officials warn that insurgent groups may use the lack of a new government to step up their attacks, with more people dying from violence in July than any month since 2008.
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Iraq: The first technology war of the 21st century
Pharmacist back from US among 18 killed in Iraq unrest
Baghdad (AFP) Aug 15, 2010
An Iraqi pharmacist just back from his studies in the United States was among at least 18 people killed in a spate of attacks across the country over the weekend, officials said on Sunday. More than 20 other people were wounded in the violence, the latest in a surge of killings in August and as Muslims observe the holy dawn-to-dusk fasting month of Ramadan, when insurgents typically step up ... read more
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