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Talabani Elected Iraqi President, Asks Maliki To Form Government

iraq 111210

Iraq moved a step closer to a new era of democracy as a key parliamentary session elected incumbent President Jalal Talabani for a second term, who in turn reappointed Nouri al-Maliki as Prime Minister and asked him to form a Cabinet within 30 days.

A parliamentary session that finally convened on Thursday night after postponing three times to ensure the presence of maximum number of MPs witnessed dramatic scenes before passing through the crucial procedures required to complete the breaking of the political deadlock.

An eight-month-old political uncertainty was resolved on Wednesday night after the country's differing political, religious and ethnic groups agreed on a power-sharing deal.

The deal mediated by Kurdish regional President Masoud Barzani gave the post of President to the Kurds, the post of Prime Minister to the Shias, while the Sunni coalition led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was offered the posts of Parliament Speaker, as well as the powerful head of the Council for National Strategy.

Iraqiya List member Osama al-Nujaifi, the only candidate named for Speaker, was elected with an overwhelming support of 227 members among the 295 lawmakers who cast their votes.

As the stage was set for voting to elect the President, about a third of the al-Iraqiyya MPs - including Nujaifi and Allawi -walked out of the chamber in protest against not passing a motion on demands including a release of detainees and to remove the stigma of Baathism, which had barred the coalition's key figures from taking political office.

Some of them, including the Speaker, later returned to the floor.

As many as 195 of the 213 Parliamentarians who participated in the vote supported Talabani in a second round of voting after he failed to obtain the two-thirds majority that the Constitution stipulates for a clear-cut victory in the first round.

Talabani then invited the head of the largest bloc to form the new government.

Although Maliki's State of Law coalition is two-seats short of Allawi's secular Iraqiya List, which made a late surge winning 91 seats in the election, Maliki staked his claim on the basis of an alliance with the Iraqi National List, which makes them the largest faction with 159 Deputies in the 325-member uni-cameral Parliament.

Government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh had earlier said that Maliki would assume office in his second term after next week's Eid holidays.

The Iraqi Parliament, known as Council of Representatives, convened on June 14 for the first time since the election. But it could not elect a new Speaker, which was mandatory for further parliamentary proceedings.

Iraq's new Parliament is tasked with drafting legislation on a slew of economic issues as the country tries to move beyond the sectarian violence unleashed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and set off on a path of economic development.

Early formation of a stable Cabinet is crucial to strengthening Iraqi democracy. The political uncertainty, coupled with recent attacks on Christians and the American forces' withdrawal, had raised fears that the country is returning to sectarian and militant violence and anarchy.

While the walkout did not scuttle the power-sharing agreement, the frailty of a broad coalition will be put to test by a possible squabble over positions and power during the one-month time given to complete the formation of the government, reports say.

In line with the agreement, major Cabinet and senior positions in government would be shared among parties proportionate to their strength in the Parliament, reports quoting U.S. officials said.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who reportedly prompted Allawi to withdraw his claim for Prime Minister's post to end the country's power struggle, is "encouraged by the substantial progress that has been made in forging an inclusive government that represents the Iraqi people and the results of this year's election," the White House said in a statement.

It described the breakthrough political agreement an "Iraqi victory" and "big step" that will result in an inclusive government and major redistribution of power.

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