Thu, Aug 09, 2007 - Page 9 News List

Iraqi parliament's political stalemate prompts a holiday for all

By Damien Cave  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , AMMAN

In July, when lawmakers extended their legislative session through the first month of the scheduled recess, "Parliament didn't conduct any useful discussions," said Nasar al-Rubaie, a leader of the bloc loyal to the anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

August, al-Rubaie suggested, would have been no different. The major party leaders -- including the Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, the Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, and al-Maliki, a Shiite -- have not taken the month off. Despite that, there are no signs of a breakthrough on the outstanding proposals covering oil revenues, constitutional reform, provincial elections or other issues.

Some lawmakers like al-Mutlak, leader of the 11-member National Dialogue Front, seem to be edging closer to giving up on the process entirely. In a lengthy interview at his apartment, he called for technocrats to be appointed as Cabinet ministers -- possibly by outside bodies like the UN.

More immediately, lawmakers questioned the US' acceptance of al-Maliki and the other prominent party leaders.

"The Iraqi government has proved it's a failure, but the Americans insist on supporting it," said Mahmoud al-Mashadani, the combative Sunni Arab speaker of parliament who is likely to be replaced soon. "I don't understand it."

When asked repeatedly whether parliament should be held at least partly responsible for Iraq's political crisis, al-Mashadani grew defensive.

"The Americans support only the government, not the parliament," he said. While al-Maliki, officials and party leaders regularly visit Washington, he said, the chairmen of committees on constitutional reform or the other laws that the US has demanded as benchmarks of political progress do not.

"The Americans created a democratic parliament then failed to respect it," he said.

US officials in Baghdad have acknowledged focusing on the leadership, largely because members of parliament rarely vote outside their parties.

US disappointment with parliament's recess stemmed not from the break itself, one official said, but rather what the vacation revealed about Iraq's broader inability to forge a deal.

Lawmakers said they hoped that a month off to let tensions cool in Baghdad would somehow start a turnaround.

Al-Mutlak also said that leaving Baghdad for Amman might help the politicians get along. He said he hoped to meet this month with members of the Shiite Fadhila Party, Allawi's group and other Sunni groups to forge a new coalition that might lead the country.

"In some ways, it's much easier to meet here," he said.

And yet, even on vacation, sectarianism is bubbling up. al-Mutlak, for example, for all his talk of moderation, blamed Kurds and Shiites for Iraq's stalemate, and said his fellow Sunnis would be foolish to compromise with such extremists.

And al-Mashadani, though he said that he would call an emergency session if the party leaders submitted legislation, admitted that he doubted it would happen. Even after parliament returns on Sept. 4, Iraq's political future will remain fractured, he said.

Searching for a metaphor near the end of an interview at the simple Amman apartment he bought four years ago, he lifted a large vase with a gold rim off his dining room table's plastic tablecloth.

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