Iraqi parliamentary officials on Saturday unanimously approved a power-sharing agreement whereby Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and President Jalal Talabani [BBC profile] will remain in power for an additional term, despite tension over governmental power positions for the country's minority Iraqiya alliance leader, Iyad Allawi [official website; Al Jazeera profile]. Under the basic unity agreement outlined by Iraqi lawmakers, the country's three major governmental positions will be headed by representatives from the Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite parties, but specific details on how the new national government will run have yet to be decided [CNN report] and must be approved separately in later parliamentary sessions. The deal was not reached without its complications as members of Sunni minority leader Allawi's alliance on Thursday walked out of early sessions in protest [NYT report], but returned to finalize the agreement. According to the basic terms of the deal, a new governmental office, the National Council for Strategic Policies, will be created and led by Allawi as a check on the prime minister's power. The new agreement marked a significant step for the Iraqi government after months of political unrest following the March Parliamentary Elections [CEIP backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. US President Barack Obama praised the agreement [official statement], calling it a "milestone" in the history of modern Iraq:
For the last several months, the United States has worked closely with our Iraqi partners to promote a broad-based government, one whose leaders share a commitment to serving all Iraqis as equal citizens. Now, Iraq's leaders must finish the job of forming their government so that they can meet the challenges that a diverse coalition will inevitably face. And going forward, we will support the Iraqi people as they strengthen their democracy, resolve political disputes, resettle those displaced by war, and build ties of commerce and cooperation with the United States, the region and the world.It is unclear whether Allawi will accept the governmental position offered to him, after stating that he would refuse to participate [CNN report] in the new government and questioning the intentions of Iraqi lawmakers. Allawi did not attend Saturday's parliamentary session.
Despite uncertainty over the future of Iraq's national government, the new power-sharing agreement is a breakthrough for Iraqi lawmakers. Last month, the Iraqi Supreme Court ruled that the seven-month delay in forming a government following the March parliamentary elections was unconstitutional, ordering parliament to reconvene [JURIST report]. In August, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] called for Iraq's political leaders to work together [JURIST report] "with a higher sense of urgency" to form a new government, warning that further delays could create more instability. Ban expressed the concern that the delay could lead to a "growing sense of uncertainty in the country" and prevent the parliament from addressing pressing domestic issues, including Arab-Kurdish disputed areas revenue-sharing, the adoption of legislation related to hydrocarbons, relations among the federal and regional governments, the constitutional review process and the strengthening of institutions of governance and the rule of law.