Iraqi PM Maliki asked to form government
Iraq's president formally asked Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Thursday to form a new government, giving him 30 days to choose a cabinet from among Iraq's fractious Shi'ite, Kurdish and Sunni political factions.
The request from President Jalal Talabani came two weeks after political leaders reached an agreement to divide up the top government jobs, a deal that put Maliki, a Shi'ite, on track for a second term as premier.
The power-sharing pact, more than eight months after an inconclusive March 7 parliamentary election, offered some hope that Iraq could avoid a return to the sectarian warfare that killed tens of thousands of people at its peak in 2006-07.
The deal gave Talabani, a Kurd, another term as president and installed Sunni lawmaker Osama al-Nujaifi as speaker of parliament. Among Maliki's biggest decisions are his choices to head the oil and finance ministries.
Iraq is trying to rebuild its battered infrastructure and sagging oil industry after years of war, international economic sanctions and neglect. It depends on oil revenues for about 95 percent of its federal budget.
The OPEC producer has signed deals with international oil firms in the last year in a bid to ramp up crude output capacity to 12 million barrels per day from the current 2.5 million, which could vault it into the top tier of global producers.
At the same time, Maliki's government is fighting a weakened but still lethal Sunni Islamist insurgency. Bombings and other attacks have fallen significantly in frequency from the height of the sectarian slaughter, but still occur daily.
The long political impasse after an election that produced no clear winner stirred concerns about increased violence from militants trying to take advantage of a power vacuum.
After his mainly Shi'ite State of Law alliance came second in the election with 89 seats, Maliki won a lengthy political fight for the premier's job by cobbling together an alliance of Shi'ite factions, cementing support from Shi'ite neighbour Iran.
He then won the support of Kurdish lawmakers and from parts of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya alliance headed by his chief rival, former premier Iyad Allawi.
The cross-sectarian Iraqiya bloc won 91 seats. But Allawi was unable to reach agreement with others for a parliamentary majority. Under the power-sharing deal, he was to become head of a council for strategic policies that has yet to be created.
Maliki toured regional capitals last month to win backing for a second term, offering Arab neighbours investment deals in Iraq in exchange for pushing Iraqiya towards a compromise, political sources said.