Talabani re-elected Prez, Iraq gets new PM
Jalal Talabani, the first Kurdish president in Iraq's history, was re-elected on Saturday, cementing his people's powerful role on the national stage after suffering years as second-class citizens.
A sworn enemy of Saddam Hussein, the 72-year-old former outlaw was picked for a second term in a testament to his deft maneuvers since becoming head of state in April 2005.
Known for his lifetime struggle championing Kurdish rights, Talabani's first year in office saw the former guerrilla fighter lead the resistance to outgoing Shiite premier Ibrahim Jafaari's bid for a second term.
Miffed at Jaafari for his failure to squelch a rise in sectarian violence, Talabani forged an alliance with Sunni politicians to effectively shut down the selection process for the next government until the Shiite prime minister agreed to step down on Thursday.
Talabani, a close ally of the Americans, has defied expectations throughout his term, striving to smooth strained relations with Syria and Iran.
An imposing, barrel-chested man, he has won praise for his efforts, if not his success in walking a conciliatory line with Arab insurgents and disaffected Sunni Arabs who had largely boycotted the political process.
Talabani, married and a father of two, has dominated Kurdish political life along with his rival Massoud Barzani, with whom he cut a deal to become Iraq's president.
In his mountainous northern fiefdom of Sulaimaniyah, Talabani is known simply as Uncle (Mam) Jalal.
Iraq gets PM after four months of deadlock
After four months of political deadlock, Iraq nominated Jawad al-Maliki as premier, with the Shiite leader immediately tasked with forming the first full-term post-Saddam Hussein government within 30 days.
Iraq's reelected President Jalal Talabani called upon Maliki to form the cabinet, signaling an end to the deadlock that triggered a surge in sectarian violence across the country that has left hundreds dead.
"On this occasion, I call upon my brother Jawad al-Maliki to form the next Iraqi government," Talabani said in the landmark parliament session, which was the only second one since it was elected in December.
"We think he has all the qualities required to head the government." Following his nomination, Maliki vowed to rein in militias by incorporating them into Iraq's security forces, while working with all the country's ethnic groups to tackle the insurgency.
"I intend to form a national unity government that will face the challenges of terrorism and corruption," he said.
"Arms must be in the hands of the government. There is a law to integrate militias into the security forces," he said.
"Each ministry will be run professionally and not as minister's own property, dictated by his ethnic background," he stressed.
He was alluding to Sunni Arab accusations that forces under the command of the Shiite-run interior ministry have been carrying out sectarian killings of civilians in revenge for attacks by Sunni insurgents.
Kurdish leader Talabani said the government would aim for "security to prevail, society to be united, and to rebuild infrastructure. The interests of Iraq should transcend all ethnic, sectarian or personal interests."
Earlier on Saturday, Maliki was formally approved as the new Shiite compromise candidate for the government by Iraq's dominant Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA).
His nomination came through after former premier Ibrahim Jaafari withdrew his candidacy which was strongly opposed by the country's Sunni and Kurdish parliamentary blocs and also the United States.
The parliament's two-hour session elected representatives to a number of key posts.
Shiite leader Adel Abdel Mahdi and Sunni politician Tareq al-Hashemi were elected as the two vice presidents, Sunni MP Mahmud Mashhadani was voted in as the new parliament speaker followed by Kurdish lawmaker Aref Tayfur and Shiite MP Sheikh Khalid al-Attiya as his two deputies.
Sunni parliamentarian Salah Mutlak, who leads a group of 11 seats, said, "This is not a team for national unity, this is a sectarian arrangement. If they improve security I will accept them, if not I will question their responsibility."
Mutlak had earlier withdrawn his candidacy for the post of the speaker. The session was convened by the eldest member of parliament, Adnan Pachachi, 83, who hailed it as a "crucial step in Iraq's democratic process".
MPs then swiftly moved on to the election of the seven posts, including sealing Maliki's prime ministerial candidacy.
Mashhadani's new job was finalised after a clear division of votes that reflected the simmering ethnic divide. Even as 159 MPs backed him, 97 spoiled their ballots and 10 abstained.
The other nine MPs were absent from the session.
Former premier Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National List of 25 seats were among those who did not vote for any post.
"Our members voted blank," Allawi said after the session ended.
Ahead of the session, UIA MPs unanimously endorsed Maliki as their candidate in place of Jaafari, removing the biggest obstacle to the long-delayed formation of a broad governing coalition.
Maliki is deputy leader of the Dawa, the same Shiite religious party headed by Jaafari, but his nomination was swiftly welcomed by political parties representing Iraq's other religious and ethnic groups.
"We welcome the choice of Maliki and believe that we can now form a national unity government in Iraq which will be non-sectarian," said Zhafer al-Ani, spokesman of the National Concord Front, the main bloc representing Iraq's Sunni Arab former elite.
The United States, which has been pushing for a strong Sunni role in the new government to take the sting out of the insurgency raging in Sunni areas, also welcomed Maliki's candidacy.
"It looks like there's movement and that's good news," said US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
MPs had been summoned twice before Saturday but on each occasion the session was postponed after politicians failed to reach agreement on the sharing out of top government posts.
Jaafari had finally announced on Thursday that he was withdrawing his bid for a second term in order to preserve Shiite unity and end the impasse. "I do not want to be a hurdle in the democratic process," he said. In violence, seven people were killed in the Diyal province.
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