x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Iraqiyya returns to table after walkout

Iraq's power-sharing concept still alive after party members say dramatic dispute was a misunderstanding over implementation.

BAGHDAD // Iraq's fragile power-sharing arrangements appeared to have been salvaged yesterday, despite conflicting claims from inside the election-winning Iraqiyya bloc as to whether it will boycott or take part in a unity government.

Following Thursday's dramatic parliamentary walk-out by more than 50 MPs from the Sunni-backed Iraqiyya group, its leader, Ayad Allawi bluntly pronounced the concept of power sharing "dead" and "finished" late on Friday, just as world leaders were proclaiming the deal a political triumph for Iraq.

Insisting he and the bulk of his followers would stay out of the proposed national unity government, Mr Allawi predicted the collapse of the power-sharing accord would result in "tensions and violence" across the country.

But, less than 24 hours later, Iraqiyya members participated in yesterday's afternoon parliamentary session and, contradicting their leader's statement, said power sharing was, in fact, up and running.

The walkout dispute, they said, had been a "misunderstanding over the implementation of the agreement".

Crucially, Mr Allawi was, Iraqiyya party members said, in London "on family business" not Baghdad, as the situation unfolded.

Mr Allawi's absence at such a critical time, just after parliament handed Nouri alMaliki, his archrival for power, another four-year term as prime

minister, increased confusion over Iraqiyya's position, and added to suggestions the party, or at least Mr Allawi's leadership of it, was heading for collapse.

"Parliament has now voted to activate all of the [power-sharing] deals that had been made before the first parliament meeting, including the issue of the de-Baathification commission, so these measures are approved and will be active," Mohammad Tmeem, an Iraqiyya MP, said last night.

While the precise terms of the power-sharing arrangements remain unclear, it gives the premiership to Mr Maliki, a Shiite, the presidency to Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and the influential position of parliamentary speaker to Osama al Nujafi, a nationalist Sunni from Iraqiyya.

In addition, Iraqiyya says the deal included a promise to set up a new policy council, to be headed by Mr Allawi, with decision-making powers, and to end a divisive de-Baathification committee, which has been accused of pursuing a witch hunt against suspected former members of the now outlawed party.

According to Mr Tmeem, the Iraqiyya MP, this deal has been agreed to and Iraqiyya members said their demands either had or would be met, enabling them to stay inside the unity government.

But, speaking on condition of anonymity, an MP inside Mr al Maliki's National Alliance said the prime minister would "never respond" to Iraqiyya's demands.

His comments suggested that, if the power-sharing deal has not already collapsed as stated by Mr Allawi, it might do so in the near future.

"There are some issues on which Mr al Maliki can never agree," the MP said, without elaborating. He also said the prime minister was angry with Mr al Nujafi, the newly appointed speaker, over his acceptance speech. "It was a declaration of war," the MP said.

Iraq's political situation has been in a state of either limbo or chaos since the March 7 elections. Voters gave a narrow victory to Iraqiyya, with 91 seats, over Mr al Maliki's 89 seats. But the former proved unable to find partners willing to join it in a coalition government, while, after eight months of on-and-off negotiations, Mr al Maliki finally won the backing of the Sadr movement and Kurds, both with a king-making presence in parliament.

Mr al Maliki, who is in the process of selecting his cabinet, has enough parliamentary backing to rule without Iraqiyya's support. But the international community, led by the United States, has stressed it wants to see all parties involved in governance, fearing the exclusion of the Sunni community would fuel a continuing insurgency.