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Iraq Transition

Arduous task ahead for Iraqi parliament

Lawmakers to begin meeting Sunday, president says


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


Jalal Talabani

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's new parliament, faced with the difficult task of selecting the nation's leaders, will hold its first session this weekend, President Jalal Talabani said Monday.

"We [the Iraqi Governing Council] will call today for holding the meeting on the 12th of this month because it is the last day that the constitution allows us to hold the meeting of the new Iraqi parliament," he said.

The constitution initially required the first session by the end of February following December's parliamentary election. Talabani extended that time until March 12.

The first session of parliament, known as the Council of Representatives with 275 members serving four-year terms, starts a 60-day countdown to form a new government.

The process likely will be difficult. Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari -- the choice of the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance to form the new government -- is under fire from Kurdish, Sunni and secular politicians, many of whom want him to step out of the race.

Al-Jaafari is a Shiite and a member of the Dawa Party, which is part of the United Iraqi Alliance, the country's most powerful political coalition. He has been prime minister in the interim government since April.

He was chosen to be the prime ministerial candidate by one vote last month over Adel Abdul Mehdi of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Support from followers of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr helped to push al-Jaafari over the top.

Al-Jaafari has faced intense criticism for not being a strong enough leader, for not forcing compromise among the various political entities and for not delivering on basic services -- water, electricity and security.

On Sunday, former Iraqi Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi of the National Iraqi List said other lawmakers had lost confidence in the prime minister and sent a letter to the United Iraqi Alliance asking it to reconsider the nomination.

"We [the National Iraqi List] indicated this is not a personal matter, but we feel that in order to have a government of national unity, the prime minister has to be acceptable to all the components of this government, and he should not be a controversial figure, which unfortunately Dr. [al-]Jaafari is," Pachachi told CNN's "Late Edition."

The Iraqi Constitution requires that the parliament first select a president and two vice presidents, who form a presidential council and then pick the prime minister. The parliament then must approve that selection.

Iraqi politicians have said they hope to have the entire government lined up before the parliament endorses its choice for president.

The United Iraqi Alliance gets first crack at nominating a prime minister because it won the most seats -- 130 -- in the December 15 election. It would need backing from other blocs to get Al-Jaafari re-elected.

If the Shiite-led coalition -- which has been running the country with the Kurdish alliance over the last year -- fails to pick a new nominee and sticks with al-Jaafari, several parties are talking about forming a new coalition to challenge the United Iraqi Alliance.

Among those groups that could form a new bloc:

  • The Kurdish coalition, 53 seats
  • Iraqi Accord Front, a Sunni party, 44 seats
  • Iraqi National List, a secular party, 25 seats
  • Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, Sunni, 11 seats
  • Kurdish Islamic Union, five seats
  • Reconciliation and Peace, Sunni, three seats.
  • CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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