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Iraqi Parliament Meets for 1st Time Since March Election


Iraq's parliament met for the first time since inconclusive elections were held on March 7.

Iraqi members of parliament took the oath of office, led by honorary speaker Fouad Mahsoum. In it, they pledge to do their constitutional duties faithfully and to protect the independence and sovereignty of their country and its people.

The session adjourned quickly, because parliament members had not ironed out the main items on the agenda.

Temporary speaker Fouad Mahsoum says more consultations are needed to chose parliament officers and decide which bloc will form the new government.

The Shi'ite deputy former speaker of parliament, Khaled al Attiya, told reporters the new "National Alliance" bloc, under Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, to which he belongs, is the largest, and should have the right to form the next government:

"Parliamentary coalitions will be formed today, now that the chamber has been seated," he said.

He added that his bloc is the largest and has the right to demand of the president that it forms the new government. He adds that other, larger blocs may also be formed during this opening session, which is their right according to established parliamentary procedure.

Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi continues to insist he has the right to form the new government, after his Iraqiya coalition won 91 seats in parliament outright, to Prime Minister Maliki's 89. Maliki's new alliance with another Shi'ite party leader, Ammar Hakim, has 159 seats, but is still four short of a majority in the 325 member parliament.

The Sunni Arab speaker of the last parliament, Iyad al Samaraie, told journalists the current power vacuum has created a massive legislative backlog that needs to be addressed.

"Legislators must resolve difficulties with a keen sense of responsibility in order to move ahead with the urgent business of choosing new leaders of parliament and of the country," he said.

He urged parliament to select qualified and seasoned leaders in order to tackle the problem of all the unfinished legislation that has piled up (due to Iraq's political crisis).

Many experts worry that forming a new government could still take months, despite an upsurge in violence and the impending August withdrawal of U.S. forces.

But analyst Peter Harling of the Crisis Group in Damascus notes the parliament meeting is a positive sign:

"It is an important station, among many others, with the political vacuum for the past several months, now, and that vacuum is obviously ongoing, but at least, reinstating some degree of normalcy within parliament is extremely important in terms of providing oversight, in particular over the Iraqi government and the state institutions," said Harling. "Although simply convening parliament does not mean that an agreement will be reached on many of the pending issues which have to be worked out before we actually have a government standing in Iraq," he added.

The two top contenders for the post of prime minister, Mr. Maliki and Mr. Allawi, met for the first time Saturday, describing their talks as "friendly and positive."

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