Thu, Dec 04, 2008 - Page 6 News List

President Talabani disputes legality of tribal councils

AP , BAGHDAD

Iraq’s president is asking the country’s federal court to rule on the legality of tribal councils set up by the prime minister despite opposition from major political groups, the president’s office said on Tuesday.

Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says the councils are designed in part to rally communities across Iraq against militant groups, whether Shiite or Sunni, and as a popular support base for the government’s drive toward national reconciliation.

But Iraq’s Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, and others say their creation is sowing more instability, particularly in areas where Kurdish claims of ownership are disputed by Arabs and others.

Critics have also accused al-Maliki of creating the councils to win support for his Dawa Party before provincial and national elections next year.

In a statement on Tuesday, Talabani said the prime minister remained adamant that the councils were legal. So, Talabani will ask the federal court to decide, the statement said.

Despite the growing dispute, Talabani said that al-Maliki continued to have the support of Iraq’s main political blocs. The Kurds have been the most vocal in criticizing the councils.

Talabani and his two deputies — vice presidents Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, and Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite — publicly berated al-Maliki last month over the councils, requesting that he disband them or find a constitutional or legal cover for them. Al-Maliki appears to have balked at their request.

“He is not budging and remains adamant that creating these councils is legal. We will go to the federal court to see whether this is indeed the case,” the statement quoted Talabani as saying on Monday in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah.

The quarrel between al-Maliki and Talabani points to the enduring rivalries between Iraq’s political factions as the country struggles to find its footing after years of brutal violence. It threatens to reopen the chasm between Iraq’s Arab majority and the long-oppressed Kurdish minority.

Talabani’s comments also elevate the two leaders’ increasingly public tussle and are likely to reflect negatively on the prime minister’s chances of winning a new term after the general election due late next year.

In the shorter term, it is certain to stoke tension in his ruling coalition, in which the Kurds are partners, and hinder national reconciliation.

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