BAGHDAD – Iraq
moved to bolster its shaky democracy on Monday with the opening of its
second parliament since the US-led ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003,
more than three months after an election stalemate.
rendition of the national anthem "My Nation" signalled the start of the
inaugural session of the Council of Representatives, as hundreds of
lawmakers and dignitaries gathered for the occasion.
ceremony gave way to political reality as it ended only 20 minutes
later, reflecting the failure of political groups to assemble a viable
coalition since a March 7 general election.
No party leader has
managed to hammer out a power-sharing deal since the election, with the
political vacuum dogging Iraq only two months before US combat troops
leave the war-battered state.
The parliamentary session was a
procedural affair with MPs taking the oath collectively while officials
from the United Nations, Arab League and the US embassy, among others,
Diplomats and politicians have warned a new government continues to appear some way off, possibly months.
forces are steadily being pulled out of Iraq and a new administration
in Baghdad is seen as key to a smooth withdrawal of all American
soldiers -- 88,000 are still stationed in country -- by the end of 2011.
premier Iyad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc, with 91 seats, won the election,
followed closely by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law
Alliance, on 89 seats, but neither has won enough backing from other
parties to form a government.
Allawi and Maliki shook hands in
parliament shortly before Monday's opening session. The two men held a
long-awaited meeting on Saturday, which was described as "friendly and
Hamid Fadhel, a professor in politics at Baghdad
University, however, cautioned that Allawi's insistence that he has the
right to lead the country, having won the ballot, and Maliki's refusal
to bend, makes more delays likely.
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"These negotiations will
need more time, there will be a long argument that takes months,
because it will not end shortly," he said.
Despite losing the
election, Maliki has battled to retain his post, calling for multiple
recounts of ballots he said were fraudulent, which delayed the
certification of results until earlier this month.
State of Law
has also formed a coalition with the election's third-placed grouping,
the Iraqi National Alliance, in a bid to cancel out Allawi's narrow
But the newly created National Alliance still remains
four seats short of the 163 seats it needs for a majority in the
325-seat parliament, and has yet to name a leader it will put forward
for the post of prime minister.
As a result, the selection of a
new parliamentary speaker and president -- meant to precede the naming
of a new premier -- is likely to be part of a grand bargain between
Iraq's competing political blocs and religious groups.
And that will further complicate the formation of a new government.
MPs have likened the current government formation process to that which
followed Iraq's first post-invasion parliamentary elections in 2005,
when six months passed before a prime minister was chosen.
the time, Iraq's competing religious groups jockeyed for key posts,
with a Shiite taking the premiership, a Sunni Arab being named
parliament speaker, and a Kurd becoming president.
meanwhile, remains endemic in Iraq. Government figures showed 337
people were killed in unrest in May, the fourth time this year the
overall death toll has been higher than in the same month of 2009.
US combat troops are due to leave Iraq by September 1 as part of a
phased drawdown of forces which will see the remaining training and
advisory force of 50,000 soldiers withdraw from the country in 2011.