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Parliament opens as political wrangling continues
The Iraqi government opened its second parliament to an uncertain future on Monday, given that the March 7 general election stalemate has left the country without a viable coalition to rule. US combat troops are to leave Iraq in two months' time.
AFP - Iraq moved to bolster its shaky democracy on Monday with the opening of its second parliament since the US-led ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003, more than three months after an election stalemate.
The playing of the national anthem signalled the start of the inaugural session of the Council of Representatives shortly after 11:00 am (0800 GMT), as hundreds of MPs and dignitaries gathered for the occasion.
No political leader has managed to assemble a viable coalition since a March 7 general election, leaving the future path of the nation's institutions unclear only two months before US combat troops leave the war-battered country.
The parliamentary session was a largely procedural affair, with MPs taking the oath collectively.
"The opening will be a protocol session and will not bring any practical results," Hamid Fadhel, a professor of political science at Baghdad University, told AFP earlier.
Diplomats and politicians have warned a new government continues to appear some way off, possibly months.
US forces are steadily being pulled out of Iraq and a new administration in Baghdad is seen as key to a smooth withdrawal of all American soldiers -- 88,000 remain in country -- by the end of 2011.
Former premier Iyad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc won most seats, 91, in the election, followed closely by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law Alliance, which won 89, but neither has won enough backing from other parties to form a government.
Allawi and Maliki shook hands in the parliament chamber shortly before Monday's opening session. The two men held a long-awaited meeting on Saturday, which was described as "friendly and positive."
Fadhel, however, cautioned that Allawi's insistence that he has the moral right to lead the country, having won the ballot, and Maliki's refusal to bend, makes further delays likely.
"These negotiations will need more time, there will be a long argument that takes months, because it will not end shortly," he said.
Despite losing the election, Maliki has battled to retain his post, calling for multiple recounts of ballots he said were fraudulent, which delayed the certification of results until earlier this month.
State of Law has also formed a coalition with the election's third-placed grouping, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), in a bid to cancel out Allawi's narrow lead.
But the newly created National Alliance still remains four seats short of the 163 seats it needs for a majority in the 325-seat parliament, and has yet to name a leader it will put forward for the post of prime minister.
As a result, the selection of a new parliamentary speaker and president -- meant to precede the naming of a new premier -- is likely to be part of a grand bargain between Iraq's competing political blocs and religious groups.
And that will further complicate the formation of a new government.
Several MPs have likened the current government formation process to that which followed Iraq's first post-invasion parliamentary elections in 2005, when six months passed before a prime minister was chosen.
At the time, Iraq's competing religious groups jockeyed for key posts, with a Shiite taking the premiership, a Sunni Arab being named parliament speaker, and a Kurd becoming president.
Violence, meanwhile, remains endemic in Iraq. Government figures showed 337 people were killed in unrest in May, the fourth time this year the overall death toll has been higher than in the same month of 2009.