x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Iraqi factions agree on names for top three government posts

Nuri al Maliki set to return as prime minister, with Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani staying as president and Sunni politician Osama as Nujaifi as speaker.

BAGHDAD // Iraq's fractious politicians have agreed to return the Shiite Nuri al Maliki as prime minister, ending an eight-month deadlock that raised fears of renewed sectarian war, but leaving some Sunnis sceptical over whether he can forge national unity.

The deal on top government posts brings together Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds in a power-sharing arrangement similar to the last Iraqi government and could help forestall a slide back into sectarian bloodshed that raged after the 2003 US-led invasion.

Sunnis, who dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein, would have reacted with outrage had the Sunni-backed Iraqiya alliance of ex-prime minister Iyad Allawi been totally excluded from government. Some may still feel cheated because of Mr Maliki's return.

The deal will see the Kurdish Jalal Talabani retain the presidency and give Mr Allawi's bloc the speaker's post in parliament and other Iraqiya members cabinet jobs, such as foreign minister. Mr Allawi himself will head a council of strategic policies.

The Kurdish regional president Masoud Barzani, speaking at at a news conference in Baghdad, said: "Thank God last night we made a big achievement, which is considered a victory for all Iraqis."

Amer al Fayyadh, the dean of political science at Baghdad University, said: "The most important issue now is that we are out of the bottleneck. The formation of a government is now in sight."

Iraq's politicians were meeting today in only the second parliamentary session since the election and should pick a speaker, the next step toward a new government.

A senior Iraqiya leader said the alliance would nominate the Sunni Arab politician Osama al Nujaifi for speaker. MPs must then pick a president who in turn nominates a prime minister, who has 30 days to form a government.

Mr Allawi pushed hard to displace Mr Maliki as premier after Iraqiya won two more seats than Mr Maliki's coalition in the vote. Mr Allawi has said repeatedly that Sunni anger might have reinvigorated the insurgency had his alliance been sidelined.

Mr Maliki's return will probably enrage Sunni hardliners, who abhor what they see as Iran's influence over Iraq's Shiite leaders and his Islamist background, and Sunni Islamist insurgents, who view Shiites as apostates.

While the deal created a job for Mr Allawi and gave Iraqiya the controlling position in parliament, some Sunnis may still feel marginalised, as they did after the previous election in 2005.

Yahya al Kubaisy, a researcher at the Iraq Institution for Strategic Studies, said: "In one way or another, we have the same atmosphere as in 2005 when Sunnis felt they were misrepresented in government, which in turn contributed to instability." He called Mr Allawi's new job a "face-saving measure".

Despite political squabbles and continuing violence that has unsettled some foreign investors, global oil majors are working to crank up production in Iraq's vast oilfields.

Officials hope to lift production capacity to 12 million barrels a day from the current 2.5 million, vaulting Iraq into the top echelon of world producers.