US urges Iraq to form inclusive government

Reports say Iraq was close to striking a a power-sharing agreement.

Melbourne: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Iraq on Monday to develop an inclusive power-sharing government, but would not confirm the country was close to striking agreement on a national unity leadership.

Iraq`s rival political groups are closing in on a power-sharing deal in which Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would remain in place for a second term, analysts have said.

"Over the course of the last eight months, we`ve had many indications that they were close to an agreement, they were on the brink of government formation, they had worked out their power-sharing arrangements, only not to see that come to fruition," a cautious Hillary told reporters during a visit to Australia for diplomatic and defence talks.

Iraq has been without a new government since a March 07 election failed to produce a clear winner, leaving Shi`ite Muslim, Sunni Arab and Kurdish politicians jockeying for power.

The eight-month vacuum has sparked concerns of a rise in violence just as the sectarian strife triggered by the 2003 US-led invasion recedes and US forces scale back their presence ahead of a full withdrawal next year.

"It is fair to say that we have been consistently urging the Iraqis to have an inclusive government that reflects the interests and needs of the various segments of the population, that there had to be legitimate power-sharing amongst different groups and individuals," Hillary said.

Al-Maliki, who belongs to the main Shi’ite party, may have secured Kurdish Alliance party backing to lead a coalition controlling 175 seats in the 325-seat Parliament, helped also by lawmakers allied with Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

The leader of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, Iyad Allawi, told Britain`s Guardian newspaper last week that he could leave power-sharing talks on forming Iraq`s next government and lead the opposition, with 91 seats under his control.

Allawi said he did not believe a deal to form a national unity government with al-Maliki and other rivals could work.

But a senior Iraqiya party member told the Kurdistan news agency on Saturday that negotiations between the political blocs were ongoing over the presidency and the party was insisting on a position equal to its electoral and political power.

Bureau Report