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INFIGHTING, HORSE-TRADING DELAY NEW IRAQI GOVT

By NBF News
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POLITICAL infighting and last-minute horse-trading have again delayed the formal announcement of a new Iraqi government, as Iraq seeks to end a nine-month vacuum created by an inconclusive election.

The Reuters news agency said Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had been expected to introduce his cabinet choices before parliament, but lawmakers and a spokesman for the speaker said the day's agenda did not include the announcement.

A spokesman for Maliki said he would proceed anyway, announcing a partial list.

The final deadline to approve the cabinet is at the end of the week, and the eleventh-hour squabbling and power-plays highlight the ethnic and sectarian divisions that pervade the country, seven and a half years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.

'Maliki delayed the announcement to give all blocs an opportunity to review their nominations and to put the final touches on an agreement and achieve greater consensus,' said Abdel-Hadi al-Hassan, a politician from Maliki's Dawa Party.

Maliki's cabinet is expected to retain Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, the Shi'ite architect of ambitious plans to turn Iraq into a top global oil producer, as well as Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, a Kurd.

Shahristani is seen as a vital member of the new cabinet and his reappointment is important to assure investors Iraq will honor deals to develop its vast reserves.

Ahmed al-Oraibi, a lawmaker for the Sunni-backed Iraqiya political coalition, said political leaders were expected to sort out lingering disputes over the division of posts later on Monday, but other officials said resolving the problem could take longer.

Maliki's spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the premier would announce 'half the new government' later in the day.

Ibrahim al-Sumaidaie, an Iraqi political analyst, said the wrangling was an attempt by political parties to wrest concessions on ministerial appointments from Maliki.

'There are blocs that want to squeeze Maliki to make him respond to their demands,' he said.   'But Maliki can turn the tables on them and can go to parliament with half of the cabinet — taking into consideration that he can insure a majority in the assembly.'

A power-sharing deal last month between Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs put Maliki on track for a second term as prime minister. The November 10 agreement returned Kurd Jalal Talabani to the presidency and made Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni, parliament's speaker.

Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi'ite whose cross-sectarian coalition won the most seats in the March 7 vote, was unable to garner enough support to secure the premiership but has said he will also join the government as head of a new national strategic policy council.

Allawi's decision, which he announced on Sunday after weeks of uncertainty, could soothe worries about renewed sectarian violence.

Maliki is not expected to reveal sensitive security posts, including the interior, defense and national security ministers, as nominees have not yet been decided.

Iraq is seeking to rebuild damaged and neglected infrastructure after decades of war and sanctions. It relies on oil for 95 percent of federal revenues and has set out ambitious targets to boost output capacity to 12 million barrels per day (bpd) over the next six or seven years from 2.5 million today.