The Walkout And More From Iraq's Parliament

Iraq is at last poised to have a new government, led by Nouri al-Maliki. But it is not yet certain what roles Iraq's Sunnis will play, and their support is far from assured. Host Liane Hansen talks to NPR's Kelly McEvers in Baghdad about the political situation there.

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In Iraq, after eight months of political stalemate, a power-sharing agreement between Shiite, Kurd and Sunni parties to form a new government appears to be in place. This comes after a turbulent few days. The Sunni party walked out of parliament, then the head of the Sunni bloc warned that the whole deal was falling apart.

NPR's Kelly McEvers is in Baghdad. And, Kelly, tell us what the new government looks like.

KELLY MCEVERS: Well, it actually looks a lot like the old one. Current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who is a Shiite, he's going to remain the prime minister. And the current president, Jalal Talibani, who is a Kurd, he's going to remain the president. The Sunni party, the Iraqiya party, is going to keep the speaker of parliament. It'll be a new person in the position but that party will keep that post.

What is different this time is that that party, the Iraqiya party, it's mainly comprised of Sunnis and got the backing of a lot of Sunni voters, got more votes than ever in the past. So, what they've been angling for is just more representation in the new government.

HANSEN: What was the Sunni walkout all about?

MCEVERS: Well, the power-sharing agreement between these three parties was actually pretty detailed. And a couple of things that the Sunnis got in the deal, in addition to the parliament speaker job, was that they would head a new version of Iraq's security council. This was an idea floated by the Obama administration.

The hope is to get all the country's top leaders in a room, Sunni, Shiite and Kurd, and let them dictate major issues. Like, you know, whether American troops will stay past the December 2011 deadline. Also, the Sunnis were pushing to allow the return of some of their fellow party members who were banned from parliament because of their previous associations with Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

So, the walkout in parliament was basically because they wanted all of these things that they had agreed to to be voted on in the first session of parliament, to be sort of codified while everyone was watching on TV. And instead what the parliament members wanted to do was just name these top three posts.

HANSEN: Now, explain what happened over the weekend.

MCEVERS: So, yesterday, after all of the sort of dramatic movements, the Sunnis came back into parliament, they apologized to everybody, saying we're really sorry, this was a misunderstanding. The lawmakers did exactly what it was they wanted. They codified, they ratified this power-sharing agreement in principle and said they'll start hammering out all the details next week after the Eid al-Adha holiday.

HANSEN: OK. So, now what?

MCEVERS: Now what, yeah. So, the first question is about Ayad Allawi. He is the head of the Sunni party, this mostly Sunni party. Some of his party members say that he's likely to accept a position of this newly-formed security council, but others are speculating that he might quit politics all together.

Either way, the big picture here, what's happened in Iraq, you've got a government that represents the three main groups. And now the real work begins. You know, how will these groups actually sit down together, hash out policy on some of the country's pressing issues, like security, the distribution of oil revenues and, you know, the fate of the northern city of Kirkuk, which is claimed by both Kurds and Arabs. You know, so that's what's going to play out over the next several months.

HANSEN: That's NPR's Kelly McEvers in Baghdad. Kelly, thank you very much.


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