Image: Iraqi nuclear scientist Hussein al-Shahristani.
Ceerwan Aziz  /  Reuters
Hussein al-Shahristani, a Shiite nuclear scientist, speaks to reporters Tuesday about the delay of the Iraqi parliament session.
msnbc.com news services
updated 3/29/2005 9:42:28 PM ET 2005-03-30T02:42:28

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi walked out of a meeting of Iraq’s parliament on Tuesday after angry scenes erupted, with assembly members berating Shiite and Kurdish leaders for failing to agree on a government.

The speaker of parliament ordered journalists to leave and declared the meeting would be held in secret, after politicians — one of them a leading member of Allawi’s bloc — denounced a failure to reach agreement two months after the historic Jan. 30 polls. 

Heading into their second-ever National Assembly session Tuesday, negotiators struggled over the issue of bringing Sunni Arabs into the government, a step officials hope will quell the Sunni-led insurgency.

A meeting late Monday between Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni representatives failed to come up with a Sunni Arab candidate that legislators promised would be announced during Tuesday’s assembly session.

Assembly's start stalled
The session’s start was delayed Tuesday as officials held frantic meetings aimed at reaching agreement.

The Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance’s leader, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, and Kurdish politician Barham Saleh met with interim President Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni Arab whom Alliance and Kurdish members seem to be trying to persuade to accept the parliament speaker position.

Al-Yawer had earlier turned down the post, asking to be one of two Iraqi vice presidents instead.

Alliance negotiators said the Sunnis promised to agree on a name for the parliament speaker, but critics of the process say the Sunni Arab candidates being discussed for government posts have no influence on the insurgency and their participation is unlikely to affect it.

“If they cannot name someone, then the Alliance and the Kurds will choose the speaker,” said Alliance negotiator Abdul-Karim al-Anz. “The Sunni community doesn’t have a united position.”

New attacks, kidnappings
Meantime, explosions were heard in Baghdad early Tuesday, where officials had warned residents to prepare for stepped up insurgent attacks. During the first National Assembly meeting, on March 16, militants lobbed mortar rounds at the heavily fortified Green Zone in the city’s center, where lawmakers held their meeting.

Violence also continued in the rest of the country, with a car bombing in the northern city of Kirkuk injuring a local Kurdish government official and more than a dozen others, police said.

Three Romanian journalists also were kidnapped in Iraq, the television station employing two of the journalists said Tuesday. The Romanian Embassy in Baghdad confirmed the three were missing but refused to give more information. Romania has about 800 troops in Iraq.

Struggle to find role for Sunnis
The Alliance and the Kurdish coalition, which placed first and second in the landmark Jan. 30 elections, have reached out to the Sunnis and to members of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s coalition, hoping to cobble together an inclusive national unity government. Under Saddam Hussein, the minority Sunnis dominated all levels of government.

But haggling over the level of participation of the Sunnis, as well as jockeying for Cabinet posts and efforts to iron out differences between the various groups have left Iraq without a government almost two months after the election of the 275-member National Assembly. Lawmakers have until mid-August to draft a permanent constitution.

The assembly will name a president and two deputies who will in turn nominate a prime minister. The presidency is expected to go to Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani and the prime minister’s post to Shiite politician Ibrahim al-Jaafari — but the exact timeline is unclear.

Some Iraqis have expressed frustrations with the drawn-out talks, which critics argued reflected the nature of sectarian politics in the new Iraq. Many Sunni voters stayed away from the polls to boycott the election — or out of fear of attacks. But some have had a change of heart after the vote was touted as a success.

Naseer al-Ani of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a main Sunni group, said the limited options facing the Sunnis — who have only a small number of members in the assembly — contributed to the delay.

Al-Ani’s party dealt a blow to the elections process when it withdrew from the race, but it is now participating in talks and wants to help draft the constitution.

A front, formed after the elections to negotiate the Sunni Arab demands, named a five-member committee to participate in talks with the Shiites and the Kurds.

Unresolved questions
Issues like how many and which ministries should go to the Sunni Arabs as well as the names of candidates for these posts and for a vice presidency remained unresolved. Some Sunni legislators want the same number of Cabinet posts as the Kurds.

Talks with members of Allawi’s coalition also have yet to produce concrete results.

Alliance officials offered to name a Sunni Arab from their own list, Fawaz al-Jarba, to be the parliament speaker, a proposal that caused some Sunnis to accuse the Alliance of trying to impose their own members.

Sunni legislator Meshaan al-Jubouri said a Sunni who won an assembly seat on the Shiite-led ticket is not someone to look out for the interests of other Sunnis. “They are just looking for someone who would agree to everything they want,” he argued.

But al-Ani said the Shiites and the Kurds were sincere in their efforts to include the Sunnis, even though they didn’t have to.

Together, the Alliance and the Kurds have 215 seats in parliament — enough to make key decisions. But their members say it would be shortsighted to go it alone, adding they are against marginalizing any of the country’s groups.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Engel on Iraq's political tension

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