Shi'ite Maliki calls for majority rule in Iraq

BAGHDAD, May 15 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a member of Iraq's Shi'ite Arab majority, has called for a reduction in power-sharing pacts that have given minority Sunnis and Kurds a greater political voice since 2003.

Maliki said continuing indefinitely with the agreements, which have provided a degree of consensus in a country battling to contain sectarian violence, would lead to "catastrophe" and that Iraq needed to embrace majority rule.

His comments were likely to fuel suspicions of Sunni Arabs, dominant under Saddam Hussein, and Kurds, who have their own semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq, that minority groups could be subject to majority Shi'ite tyranny.

"In the beginning, consensus was necessary for us. In this last period, we all embraced consensus and everyone took part together. We needed calm between all sides and political actors," Maliki said in an interview late on Thursday with al-Hurra, a U.S.-backed television station.

"But if this continues it will become a problem, a flaw, a catastrophe. The alternative is democracy, and that means majority rule ... From now on I call for an end to that degree of consensus," Maliki said.

Though not required by Iraqi law, some top political posts, such as the presidency and parliamentary speaker, have been distributed among feuding ethnic and sectarian groups to dampen dissent, regardless of these groups' electoral support.

There still could be "understandings" between different factions, Maliki added.

But any move to reduce such deals would likely result in greater power for Shi'ite majority and enrage Sunnis, Kurds and other minorities that already feel marginalised.

Kurds have accused Maliki of trying to hoard power, and Sunnis have accused his government of persecuting former members of Saddam's Baath party and refusing to embrace government-backed Sunni Arab militiamen who helped battle al Qaeda across Iraq.

Kurdish officials have already said they expect the next Iraqi president to be a Kurd.

Maliki's call to reduce rule by "consensus" -- which he said leads to the sharing of political posts -- comes a few months after his allies made sweeping gains in January local polls, setting him up to do well in national polls due by early next year.

More absolute power for the Shi'ite majority might mean more swift enactment of legislation, which sometimes has been held up by disputes along sectarian or ethnic lines.

However, Maliki, who has led a shaky coalition government since 2006, has repeatedly spoken of his wish to shift Iraqi politics away from sectarian and ethnic interests.

Violence has fallen sharply in Iraq over the past year, but the country has yet to find the political reconciliation needed to put end to a stubborn insurgency and establish stability. (Writing by Missy Ryan and Mohammed Abbas; Editing by Dominic Evans)