Middle East

Iraqi leaders hold government power-sharing talks

Iraqi leaders at a meeting in Irbil, 8 Nov
Image caption The meeting lasted less than two hours before being adjourned

Leaders of Iraq's main political blocs have met publicly for the first time since March elections in a bid to break the eight-month political deadlock.

After a brief meeting in the northern city of Irbil, leaders agreed to resume talks in Baghdad on Tuesday evening.

Officials said major obstacles still needed to be resolved in their efforts to reach a power-sharing agreement.

Elsewhere in Iraq, car bombs struck the country's holy cities of Karbala and Najaf, killing 14 Shia pilgrims.

Possible deal

The aim of the meetings, the first of which was hosted by Kurdish regional president Masoud Barzani in Irbil, is to agree on a government of national unity that includes Shias, Sunnis and Kurds before a parliamentary session on Thursday.

The leaders have yet to agree on nominations for prime minister, president and speaker in time for a parliamentary vote on Thursday.

Both men vying for the post of prime minister - incumbent Nouri al-Maliki and Iyad Allawi - are at the talks.

Mr Maliki's State of Law bloc won 89 seats, two fewer than Mr Allawi's al-Iraqiyya movement in the March poll.

But neither bloc secured an outright majority, which has led to a period of intense political negotiations as both groups try to cobble together enough support to head a new government.

The deal that is shaping up envisages Mr Maliki staying on as prime minister and Jalal Talabani, who is Kurdish, retaining the presidency, says the BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad.

Mr Allawi's coalition would be given the speakership of parliament and also the presidency of a new national council for higher policy, our correspondent says.

Mr Allawi wants that council to have real powers, not just a consultative role, and that is the core issue likely to dominate the discussions, he adds.

Since March, Iraq's parliament has met for just 20 minutes - and the country has set a world record for the longest time taken to form a new government.