Middle East

Nouri Maliki starts work on forming Iraq government

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has formally asked Prime Minister Nouri Maliki to form a new government.

The move gives Mr Maliki 30 days in which to negotiate yet more potential hurdles as he hands out ministerial portfolios to all political factions.

He called on Iraqis to turn over a new page and forget their differences.

The announcement is part of a power-sharing agreement ending a world record eight months of political deadlock since March's inconclusive elections.

"I charge you ... Nouri Maliki to form the new government, which we hope will be a real national partnership government which will not exclude any faction," President Jalal Talabani said at a ceremony at the al-Salam presidential palace in Baghdad.

This is one more step along the tortuous road to a new government, says the BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse in the Iraqi capital.

After more than eight months of limbo, squabbling and back-room negotiations, a deal was finally struck two weeks ago to allow Mr Maliki to remain in his post.

He is now tasked with putting together a government in 30 days.

Allawi fear

Accepting the nomination, Mr Maliki said he was aware the responsibility was "not an easy task".

"I am addressing the great Iraqi people, all its religions, sects and nationalities, and our brothers the politicians, about the necessity to work to overcome the disputes from the past, to put them behind us and to open a new page," he said.

The new government is expected to include all the major factions, including the Kurds, Shia and Sunni Arabs.

It should also include Iyad Allawi's Sunni-backed al-Iraqiyya bloc, which won two more seats in parliament than Mr Maliki's largely State of Law coalition, but lost out after the prime minister formed the National Alliance with supporters of the radical Shia cleric, Moqtada Sadr.

But there are fears that the former prime minister could withdraw from the process if he feels he is being sidelined.

Such a move would be a setback for reconciliation, just one year before the US is scheduled to withdraw the last of its troops from Iraq, our correspondent says.

The road ahead is littered with potential pitfalls, and dividing up ministries among Iraq's notoriously fractious parties and factions will not be easy, he adds.

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Mr Maliki requested that the political blocs vying for important ministries such as oil and foreign affairs should put forward well-qualified candidates able to take on the difficult challenges facing the country.

A senior lawmaker allied to Mr Maliki told the Reuters news agency that the National Alliance was seeking control of the oil and finance ministries.

Senior leaders from al-Iraqiyya meanwhile said they wanted the foreign affairs ministry, currently held by Hoshyar Zebari, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. However, a senior Kurdish official said they did not want to lose it.

"We prefer to get the foreign ministry as a sovereign ministry because of the successes that we had the last four years. But if not, we will ask for the finance ministry instead," Adel Barwari explained.