BAGHDAD // Cross party talks on forming the next Iraqi government will continue in Baghdad today after yesterday's brief leadership summit in the northern city of Erbil ended without agreement.
In 90 minutes of televised speeches yesterday, leaders of the main political factions, including the incumbent prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, and his principal rival, Ayad Allawi, reiterated already well-known positions and appeared to make little progress on the make-up of a new administration.
Iraqiyya, led by Mr Allawi to a narrow and inconclusive victory as the largest parliamentary party in March's national elections, insisted the government be formed with respect to the ballot's results. Mr Maliki, who is seeking another term as premier, made a pointed reference to respecting the constitution, which he believes gives him the right to form the government, as leader of the largest multiparty parliamentary coalition.
Negotiating committees, which met in the run-up to this round of talks, have been unable to resolve a series of differences, making it seem unlikely that any deal between the groups will be made soon. It is already more than eight months since elections took place.
"I do not think that the leaders will be able to solve these sticking points because they need a lot of discussion and study," said the vice president Tariq al Hashemi, of Iraqiyya. "I do not know how the leaders, today and tomorrow, will be able to discuss this list of sensitive and strategic issues during this short period of time."
However, there does seem to be a growing sense of inevitability about Mr al Maliki securing another term of office, while Iraqiyya appears to be riven with divisions about how to proceed.
A senior Iraqiyya member admitted the group was split, with one faction, led by Mr Allawi, refusing to join an al Maliki-led administration, while another influential wing favours participation in government, on condition it commands senior roles, such as the presidency and foreign ministry.
"Some in Iraqiyya say opposition is better than joining a Maliki government," the Iraqiyya member said on condition of anonymity. "Others say that will just hand all the power to Maliki and that we would not benefit by excluding ourselves from the decision-making process.
"Either way, Maliki will be prime minister, there is no other solution, if we insist on fighting that, we will never have a government in Iraq."
Such all-party power sharing arrangements have been promoted by the US, which has called for a national unity government. However, proposals that Iraqiyya be given a strengthened presidential position - the role is currently much weaker than the premiership - would require a change to the constitution and parliamentary approval, followed by a national referendum that would take many months to arrange, with no guarantee of it being passed.
Mr Allawi did allude to a possible power-sharing outcome yesterday, saying his bloc must be "equal in rights, duties and power-sharing, without anyone having the upper hand".
Horse-trading over government positions has angered and alienated ordinary Iraqis, who increasingly view the politicians they elected as narrowly self-interested, rather than working in the national good.
Haider al Mullah, a spokesman for Iraqiyya, denied any deals had been done, and said the group had not talked about securing itself the presidency, currently held by Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, or the foreign ministry, also Kurdish controlled.
He did, however, accept that Mr al Maliki was now on course to retain the premier's seat. "Iraqiyya has lost hope of holding the prime minister's position, I think that is going to be al Maliki," he said.
Another problem with the rumoured power sharing deal that envisages Iraqiyya getting the presidency is that the Kurdish bloc, with a king making 43 parliamentary seats, insists it choose the president.
"The Kurds will not leave the presidency, whatever the situation," a Kurdish MP said.