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New Iraqi parliament convenes Monday

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Forming a government in Iraq could take months
  • Ex-prime minister's slate leads contenders
  • Current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki aligns with Shiite parties
  • March 7 vote was certified last week

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's new parliament will convene next week to start what could be a months-long process of forming a government after the March elections, the country's Presidency Council announced Tuesday.

Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya slate emerged from the balloting with 91 seats, a two-seat edge over the coalition led by current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Both are claiming the right to form a new government when parliament convenes on Monday.

Al-Maliki's State of Law coalition recently merged with another bloc of Shiite Muslim parties to form a 159-seat coalition, but that's still less than a majority of the 325-seat Council of Representatives. Meanwhile, an alliance of Kurdish parties won 43 seats, leaving them as potential kingmakers.

Allawi led the interim Iraqi government set up in 2004, after the U.S. invasion that toppled longtime strongman Saddam Hussein. He is a member of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, but leads a secular bloc that includes prominent Sunni Arab politicians such as Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.

Iraqiya was the main choice for the Sunni population, which turned out in large numbers to vote after largely boycotting the last election. Western officials have warned that any attempt to cut Iraqiya out of a new government could reignite the sectarian warfare that gripped the country for years after that previous vote, when a Shiite-led government that alienated Sunnis emerged.

The results of the March 7 elections were certified last week, after months of delays caused by a partial recount of votes and a number of appeals.

The new parliament must name a president, who would then have 15 days to designate a candidate for prime minister. That candidate would then have 30 days to assemble a government -- and if no deal is reached, another candidate would get a shot.

-- CNN's Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.