Iraq's president has asked Shi'ite incumbent Nouri al-Maliki to retain his position as prime minister and form a new government, but a dispute in parliament on a newly reached power-sharing deal prompted most of the Sunni-backed opposition to walk out, underscoring the agreement's fragility.
Iraqi lawmakers Thursday re-elected Jalal Talabani as president. The Kurdish leader then nominated Mr. Maliki to form a unity government, paving the way for his return to office for another four-year term. Under Iraqi law, he has 30 days to form his Cabinet.
But newly elected parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab, and roughly two-thirds of the other 91 lawmakers from the Iraqiya coalition -- including former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi -- walked out of Thursday's session to protest the rejection of a series of demands they made.
Among them were commitments to release detainees and reverse the disqualification of three Iraqiya candidates for their alleged ties to the outlawed Ba'ath Party of executed former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Sunnis view the controversial de-Baathification process as a Shi'ite attempt to bar them from returning to power.
Nujaifi later returned to the session, where voting had continued on Mr. Talabani's re-election. Earlier Thursday, parliament members also elected a Sadrist Movement member and a Kurdistan Alliance lawmaker as deputy speakers.
The walkout underlined the Sunni minority's ambivalence over the prospective new unity government outlined in the deal, which ensures continued Shi'ite domination while giving Sunnis a role far short of the greater political power they seek.
U.S. President Barack Obama Thursday welcomed the progress but urged Iraqi leaders involved in the fragile power-sharing arrangement to aim for an "inclusive government." The White House said Mr. Obama spoke to several Iraqi leaders in recent days and stressed the need for Mr. Allawi, other Iraqiya members and all the winning political blocs to hold leadership posts in the country's new government.
Kurdish regional President Masoud Barzani, who brokered the agreement, said Thursday Mr. Allawi would lead a newly created committee overseeing foreign policy and national security, the National Council for Strategic Policies. The council's powers, however, remain undefined.
For their part, Iraqi Kurds feel they have solidified their role in government. Though the presidency is a largely symbolic position, Mr. Talabani has been able to wield considerable power because of his background as a longtime Kurdish leader.
Mr. Allawi's Iraqiya alliance won the most seats in inconclusive March elections but was unable to gain enough support from other parties to create a majority coalition. Iraqiya's inability to find political partners allowed Mr. Maliki, who partnered with anti-American Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in an Iranian-backed coalition, to gain momentum and support.
If the shaky deal holds, it could end the stalemate that has paralyzed Iraqi state institutions as security forces battle insurgents who have taken advantage of the political vacuum to stoke violence.
Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.