Iraqi Parliament Agrees on Senior Leadership
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.
After weeks of stalled negotiations, Iraq's parliament met today and voted for a prime minister, president, and other senior posts. The breakthrough came after the embattled interim prime minister, Ibrahim al Jafaari finally agreed to step aside.
NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports from Baghdad that four months after Iraq's election, the process of forming a new government is finally underway.
JAMIE TARABAY reporting:
With Jafaari out of the picture, it didn't take these politicians long to congregate in the fortified Green Zone and elect new leaders. Like Sunni politician, Mikthail Al Alaluthi(ph), most expressed relief just to have something to vote on.
Mr. MIKTHAIL AL ALALUTHI (Sunni Politician): (Through Translator) Today we are so happy that the political process is heading in the right direction, and we are happy that today we shall elect the spokesman of the House and his deputies and hope that we can also elect the president. It means the political process is in good shape.
TARABAY: Inside the hall where they met the atmosphere was jovial, despite the stifling heat. Cuts in electricity forced the politicians to use their papers as fans.
Once the vote for the first position, that of parliamentary speaker, took place and passed, the good humor continue. The man they'd just elected, Sunni leader Mahmoud Mashhadani, even injected some humor into his speech about his own political history. He told the delegates how he was thrown in jail in the 1980s for opposing Iraq's war with Iran. He claims he got let out early because he was extra-polite to his jailers.
Everyone seemed positive. The interim Transportation Minister told reporters it was possible a cabinet could be formed in the next two weeks.
But there's still a way to go and the cracks are clear. A Kurdish politician rose to say he didn't hear the words democracy or federalism mentioned in the new Speaker's address. Federalism for Kurds means one step towards an independent state. Their aspirations threaten to split the country and ignite even more conflict. And the new prime minister, Jawad al-Maliki, showed no sign that his administration would be any different from Jafaari's.
Prime Minister JAWAD AL MALIKI (Iraq): (Through Translator) I do not see a reason why we shouldn't continue what has been built by Ms. Jafaari. Iraq is undergoing a sensitive, serious stage. We will continue the march that he started to achieve all we aspire to.
TARABAY: Maliki seemed to reject U.S. calls to disband and disarm sectarian militias. He says there's a provision in Iraqi law that allows them to merge with the country's security forces. Still, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was hopeful today.
Mr. ZALMAY KHALILZAD (U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): With the formation of a national unity government, with a good program and with competent ministers, Iraq will be put on the right trajectory. And over time, the security environment will improve.
TARABAY: Jamie Tarabay, NPR News. Baghdad.
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