BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called on rivals to join him in a national unity government on Saturday but potential partners suggested such an alliance may be a long way off.
A March parliamentary election yielded no outright winner, leaving Iraq in limbo and raising fears that insurgents would exploit the vacuum to stir sectarian tensions.
Maliki, under U.S. pressure to form an all-inclusive government, has so far only won clear support from anti-U.S. Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. In televised remarks, he said it was time for all to show flexibility.
“We must sit together and talk to each other until we reach common ground,” he said. “In this spirit we call on parties to come to the negotiation table.
“We cannot reach this point without flexibility and readiness to act in a realistic way, without giving others the right of partnership in this country.”
His rivals — the Sunni-backed secular Iraqiya bloc and a Kurdish coalition representing the oil-rich, semi-autonomous north — responded with little enthusiasm.
A source in Iraqiya, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the party was strongly opposed to Maliki retaining his post in a new government.
“Iraqiya’s decision not to take part in a government headed by Maliki is final and irreversible,” the source said.
“Currently there are no talks between Iraqiya and SOL (Maliki’s State of Law party) and there will be no talks as long as the candidate is Maliki.”
Iraqiya, headed by former premier Iyad Allawi, won 91 seats in the March election — more than any other bloc. Allawi has warned that excluding his alliance could spark bloodshed.
Maliki’s State of Law won 89 seats and Sadr got 39, which means Maliki would still be dozens of seats short of the 163 needed for a governing majority in Iraq’s 325-seat parliament.
The Kurds, who won 56 seats and could therefore act as kingmakers, also said talks may go on for some time.
“All I can say is that talks are still actively continuing with all blocs including SOL,” said Mohsin al-Saadoon, a senior Kurdish lawmaker. “We need an all-inclusive government.”
Ross Nouri Shawis, head of the Kurdish negotiating team, told Reuters this week that talks were going well but suggested Iraq may not see a new government this year.
The Kurds have put forward a number of demands including the right to bypass the central government in signing oil contracts. They also lay claim to oil-rich disputed northern territories.
“We are having fruitful talks with the Kurds,” said Ali al-Adeeb, a lawmaker and senior member of Maliki’s alliance. “But I can’t say when these talks will be finished.”
Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Janet Lawrence