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In Iraq, the parliament has been called into session next week. That move could finally end the long stalemate over how to form a government. The results of parliamentary elections in March were inconclusive, and politicians have been wrangling ever since over key posts, including the post of prime minister.
As NPR's Kelly McEvers reports from Baghdad, recent violence in the capital might be what is spurring lawmakers into action.
KELLY McEVERS: The Iraqi parliament has held exactly one official session since the March 7th elections. That session lasted 17 minutes. Since then, politicians can be seen at parliament from time to time, but those are mostly meetings about meetings. Like this recent gathering.
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McEVERS: Topics of debate included questions like: How will we convene? When will we convene? Or is it even constitutional to convene?
The real issue here is the fact that no party won a clear majority of seats in the March elections. And in the eight months since then, a coalition has yet to emerge that can agree over who will hold key positions.
Now, though, it looks like a group including the Shiite parties of current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr along with Kurdish parties is about to be that winning coalition. But the problem with that scenario is it could exclude the party of Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who has the backing of the country's Sunnis and who took the most votes in the election.
The U.S. and regional powers like Turkey and Saudi Arabia worry that excluding Allawi would anger his secular and Shiite supporters and would throw Iraq back into chaos.
Already this week, a series of coordinated bombings targeting more than a dozen mostly Shiite neighborhoods shook Baghdad. The explosions killed 62 people and wounded some 300 more.
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McEVERS: Maliki toured hospitals the day after the attacks, kissing survivors on the cheek. He promised patients to investigate the attacks, saying they were meant to disrupt the political process.
Hisham al-Hashemi is a historian who's writing a book about militant groups in Iraq. He advises Iraqi security forces on militant behavior. He says the bombs in these attacks, most of which were planted in parked cars, did not bear the hallmark of al-Qaida.
Mr. HISHAM AL-HASHEMI (Historian): (Through Translator) Because al-Qaida would just bring the car bombs from outside the areas into the areas, and also the ammunition or the explosives used in that, they were very primitive. They were like old.
McEVERS: These explosives targeted mostly Shiite civilians, Hashemi says, as a way to reignite sectarian violence and threaten the delicate alliance between Maliki and Sadr, whose militia, the Mahdi Army, was a key player in earlier sectarian violence. This, Hashemi says, could be why Maliki is pushing to form a government in the coming days. Hashemi says an earlier attack this week when militants seized a Catholic church, taking more than a hundred people hostage, was the work of al-Qaida. Fifty-eight people died during the takeover of the church and a subsequent raid by Iraqi counterterrorism forces.
At a recent funeral for the victims, survivors asked how the attack happened in the first place. If Maliki stays in power, they said, will he be able to provide security for his people?
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McEVERS: What can we do now, the mourner said. What kind of country could let something like this happen?
Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Baghdad.
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