Obama lauds 'inclusive' Iraq govt amid frictions - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Obama lauds 'inclusive' Iraq govt amid frictions

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Iraqi lawmakers attend the parliament session in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010. Iraqi lawmakers attend the parliament session in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010.
U.S. President Barack Obama gestures during a closing press conference at the G20 Summit in Seoul, South Korea Friday, Nov. 12, 2010. U.S. President Barack Obama gestures during a closing press conference at the G20 Summit in Seoul, South Korea Friday, Nov. 12, 2010.

BAGHDAD (AP) — President Barack Obama praised Iraqi moves to form an "inclusive" government on Friday, but the two-day-old deal was already looking fragile after Sunni lawmakers walked out of parliament, clouding the possibilities for working with Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Members of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc have accused al-Maliki's Shiite coalition of breaking promises under the deal, which aimed to overcome an eight-month deadlock and allow the creation of a new Iraqi government.

Jaber al-Jaberi, an Iraqiya lawmaker from the Sunni stronghold of Ramadi, said members of the bloc were meeting to decide whether to boycott the next session of parliament, which was scheduled for Saturday.

They were seeking assurances that al-Maliki's loyalists will vote to reverse a ban on three Iraqiya lawmakers prevented from taking up government posts for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's banned Baathist party.

Iraqiya has accused the Shiite alliance of violating an agreement to abolish the controversial de-Baathification law. A refusal to bring the issue up for a vote during Thursday's parliament session prompted most members of the Sunni-backed bloc to walk out, dampening the optimism about a power-sharing deal reached the day before.

Some Shiites in Baghdad celebrated with gunfire Thursday night after al-Maliki secured a second term. That was in contrast to the mood after the March 7 elections, when Sunnis took to the streets and waved Iraqi flags as they rejoiced over Ayad Allawi's narrow election victory.

Members of the Sunni minority said they were being squeezed out of a major role in power, fearing the new government would just be a continuation of the last four years of Shiite dominance with a strong role for the Shiite parties' ally Iran.

"We support the withdrawal of the Iraqiya list members from the parliament session yesterday," said Karim al-Obeidi, from the tribal council in Azamiyah, a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad. "We don't want to repeat what had happened before when the former government gave promises ... but didn't fulfill its obligations."

The top cleric at Abu Hanifa, a major Sunni mosque in Baghdad, said the power-sharing deal "copies the old sectarian and ethnic distribution of power and this brings us to square one."

"We are expecting another four hard years," the cleric, Abdul-Satar Abdul-Jabar, told The Associated Press.

The agreement ironed out Wednesday by representatives from all Iraq's main ethnic and sectarian political groups paved the way for a parliament session Thursday in which Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani was re-elected president. But the session was marred by the walkout by most of Iraqiya's lawmakers, including Allawi.

Talabani went ahead and asked al-Maliki to start putting together his Cabinet, a process that could take several weeks.

The agreement gave Iraqiya the parliament speaker's position and Allawi a position as head of a still-undefined council, although he has yet to publicly accept the post. It is still unclear what other positions the Iraqiya list would receive, but overall the deal fell far short of Sunni ambitions for greater political power after years of governments dominated by religious Shiite parties. Their hopes had been further raised because Iraqiya won 91 seats in the 325-member parliament, two more than al-Maliki's list but short of a majority.

"By and large, the Sunnis are not getting that much," said Marina Ottoway, director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

She said the true test will be whether Iraqiya receives any of the powerful ministries such as foreign affairs, interior or defense.

Washington has sought a greater Sunni role in the new government, fearing that otherwise disillusioned members of Iraq's Sunni minority could turn toward the insurgency, fueling violence.

At a press conference in Seoul, Obama praised the progress, despite the Sunni walkout. "All indications are that the government will be representative, inclusive, and reflect the will of the Iraqi people who cast their ballots in the last election," he said.

"For the last several months, the United States has worked closely with our Iraqi partners to promote a broad-based government," he said. "Now Iraq's leaders must finish the job of forming their government so they can meet the challenges that a diverse coalition will inevitably face."

Obama was to speak Friday with al-Maliki, a day after speaking with Allawi, said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser. In his conversations, Obama "stressed the need for Dr. Allawi, other members of Iraqiya, and representatives from all of the winning blocs to hold leadership positions," Rhodes said Obama made no mention of the Sunni walkout; a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity late Thursday because of the sensitivity of the talks downplayed the Sunni exodus from parliament. He attributed it to political showmanship but acknowledged the fragile nature of the agreement for the two sides to work together.

Washington was not the only country full of praise for the new government.

The head of the Guardians Council, one of Iran's top clerical ruling bodies, praised al-Maliki's return to power and described it as a blow to neighboring, mainly Sunni Arab countries who opposed al-Maliki.

"Under God's will, the Iraqi people showed their wisdom and vigilance," Ahmad Jannati said in a sermon during Friday prayers in Tehran.

Oddly enough, both the U.S. and Iran had been working toward the same goal: an al-Maliki to return to power. But they differed strongly on the degree to which the Sunnis would be involved in the new government, with Iran pushing for only token Sunni participation and the U.S. lobbying for a real partnership.

As al-Maliki accepted Talabani's nomination for a second term after the Sunnis walked out, it appeared Iran had prevailed.

The walkout may not derail the power-sharing agreement, but it underscored the deep mistrust Sunnis feel toward al-Maliki and his Shiite allies — and indicated that the process of forming a government will be tumultuous and that any government that emerges could be deeply fractured.

"In the elections, the Sunnis gave up sectarian prejudice and voted for Allawi, who is a Shiite, at the hope of bringing down sectarian lines," said Abdul-Jabar, the cleric. "But now Iraqiya is deprived of its constitutional right and Allawi, who is not sectarian, was prevented from being the prime minister."


Associated Press writers Julie Pace in Washington and Ben Feller in Seoul and Barbara Surk in Baghdad contributed to this report.


Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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