Thu, Aug 09, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Iraqi parliament's political stalemate prompts a holiday for all


Saleh al-Mutlak, a senior Sunni leader in Iraq's parliament, is spending his summer vacation in Amman at a well-appointed apartment that his wife and son moved into last year.

Lighting a cigarette on his patio, near a small garden of pink roses, he acknowledged breathing easier in a place where loud explosions are caused by fireworks, not bombs.

But like scores of other Iraqi lawmakers passing the time during their controversial monthlong recess, al-Mutlak played down the joys of escape. He said he would abstain from dinners out or trips to movie theaters. When a member of his political bloc was seen on television celebrating with Iraqi soccer players at a five-star hotel in downtown Amman, he immediately ordered him to leave.

"Our people are suffering," he said. "We should not be enjoying ourselves."

On that, both Iraqi and US officials agree. Less clear is whether parliament's decision to take this month off should be considered a vital contributor to Iraq's political stalemate or the product of a more ominous breakdown.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and several members of Congress already have expressed disappointment with Iraq's 275 lawmakers for recessing when roughly 160,000 US soldiers are enduring Iraq's blast-furnace summer to secure the country -- ostensibly to make political progress possible. It did not help that the need for a break was among the only things that the warring factions could agree on.

And many have already left. At least 15 Iraqi lawmakers have rushed to more temperate Amman over the past week (some only briefly) and more are coming. Others said they and their colleagues would spend at least part of the break in London, Cairo, Dubai, Damascus, Tehran or at a lake resort in Iraq's safest region, autonomous Kurdistan. Few seemed destined for luxury; in most cases, they said they would be staying with family or attending conferences related to Iraq.

They rejected the idea that they were abandoning their civic duty. Several lawmakers, in interviews across the region, said that their decision to recess was a last resort caused by disagreements among Iraq's party leaders that kept draft laws from being submitted for a vote.

With a mix of self-righteousness, sadness and frustration, they said there was little more they could do: Iraq's government, they said, was a failure and only a major shake-up was likely to get things moving.

"The national unity government is a myth, it's not a reality," said Ayad Allawi, reclining on a couch in his spacious, sand-colored villa in the Rabiya neighborhood of Amman. "The political process is heading nowhere."

Allawi, a secular Shiite, has a vested interest in seeing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki fail; as interim prime minister before the 2005 elections, Allawi considers himself a potential alternative, despite spending much of his time in Jordan rather than Iraq.

Nonetheless, the broader argument against the current government appears to be spreading. A growing number of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers in recent months have complained about the country's obstinate party leaders and the ministries' inability to provide services. Discussions of who might replace al-Maliki have become more common.

Given the deep distrust between political groups -- organized almost exclusively along sectarian lines -- lawmakers said that an extra month of work would have only painted a veneer of productivity over a foundation of dysfunction.

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