Maliki Given 30 Days to Form Government in Iraq

Generators on sale in Baghdad. Amid political gridlock in Iraq, the public’s frustration has grown over the failure to improve basic services like electricity

 
Joseph Sywenkyj for The New York Times

By STEVEN LEE MYERS

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s president formally nominated Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for a second term as the country’s prime minister on Thursday, giving him 30 days to cobble together a government from competing factions that remain deeply divided and suspicious of his return to power.
President Jalal Talabani of Iraq, center, on Thursday asked Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, center left, to form a governing coalition.

Mr. Talabani, a Kurd who was re-elected two weeks ago, announced the nomination in a televised ceremony at his Peace Palace on the Tigris River. He was joined by leaders of all the major parties except Mr. Maliki’s main rival, Ayad Allawi, a Shiite whose coalition won the support of most of Iraq’s Sunnis.
President Talabani called on Mr. Maliki to form “a new government that we hope will be a government of national partnership and will not exclude anyone.”
It has been a long time coming.
The elections for 325 members of the Council of Representatives were held on March 7, but legal challenges and political squabbling delayed first the results and then the convening of Parliament through the summer and fall.
Even if Mr. Maliki meets the 30-day deadline in late December — which is not a certainty, given the chronic disregard for legal deadlines in Iraqi politics — the country will have spent more than nine months under a caretaker government without a functioning legislature. Many of Iraq’s most critical needs, including basic services and investment, have remained unaddressed throughout the impasse.
Mr. Maliki, 60, a Shiite first elected as a compromise prime minister in 2006, appealed for unity. Reading his remarks, he urged the political leaders with him “to overcome the disputes from the past, to put them behind us and to open a new page of cooperation in building the country.”
He said that the improvement in security was his greatest accomplishment in office, and he emphasized the need to support the security forces “in their difficult mission” against an untamed insurgency. He did not mention the United States or its role assisting those forces.
At the same time, Mr. Maliki appeared mindful of the growing public frustration over the failure to improve basic services like electricity.
“We want an active and qualified government to provide services to our people that we delayed for a long time,” he said.
Mr. Maliki’s formal nomination begins what is expected to be another period of byzantine jockeying for control of ministries and other agencies.
Under the compromise agreement that returned Mr. Maliki to power, parliamentary leaders assigned points to each party based on the number of seats each won, as well as points to each position in the new government. The more senior posts in what are known as the “sovereign ministries” — overseeing foreign affairs, finance, oil and defense, for example — are worth more points than the service ministries, like health and agriculture.
Iraqi officials and political analysts, as well as news media reports, describe the process as a bazaar, with power, influence and control of budgets being bartered over.
“If the government allocates $7 billion to the Ministry of Culture today, tomorrow it will become a sovereign ministry,” Ibrahim al-Sumadaie, an unsuccessful candidate for Parliament, said in an interview. “Everybody is after the money. Nobody cares about the ministry itself.”
Still uncertain is the role of Mr. Allawi, whose coalition, Iraqiya, narrowly beat Mr. Maliki’s, winning 91 seats compared with 89. Under an agreement brokered by the Obama administration, Mr. Allawi was supposed to take over a committee on national security and other strategic issues whose authority remains ill defined.
On the night Parliament met two weeks ago, Mr. Allawi led a walkout of some of Iraqiya’s members, and then left the country, denouncing the agreement as stillborn. He returned to Iraq on Wednesday, but continues to complain about the agreement, blaming Iran for blocking what he considers his rightful chance to be prime minister.
“The last chapter in this tale is not over yet,” he said Monday in an interview on Al Arabiya television.

Yasir Ghazi, Yasmine Mousa and Zaid Thaker contributed reporting.


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