Iraqi parliament gets down to work

By Gabriel Gatehouse
BBC News, Baghdad

Image caption,
Iraqi MPs ended an eight-month period of deadlock earlier this month

The Iraqi parliament has begun in earnest the job its members were elected to do in March.

MPs finally ended an eight-month period of deadlock the week before last, when they chose a speaker and reappointed Jalal Talabani as president.

That cleared the way for caretaker Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to form a new government.

But progress was interrupted by the Muslim holiday of Eid, which ended on Saturday.

However Sunday's session was not expected to immediately address key decisions about who will run the new government, but to focus instead on internal parliamentary rules and the formation of legislative committees

One initial task will be to define the role of the new government body known provisionally as the National Council for Strategic Policies.

This will be led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who was outmanoeuvred by Mr Maliki for the top job, despite winning more seats in March's election.

'Young and fragile'

It has been surprisingly quiet in Baghdad these past few days.

Contrary to some expectations, there were no significant attacks as residents of the capital celebrated the Eid holiday.

Is it the political breakthrough that has caused this sudden outbreak of peacefulness?

Many will be hoping so, and that the spirit of accord, still so young and fragile, will survive the challenges and tensions that will undoubtedly surface as the business of politics resumes.

Since the poll on 7 March, Iraq set a new world record for the longest period between an election and a government being formed. And they're still not quite there.

Once Mr Talabani officially asks Mr Maliki to form an administration, he will have 30 days to do so.

He will face a delicate task of dividing up ministerial portfolios between the various parties and factions, Shias, Sunnis and Kurds.

The consolation prize for Mr Allawi and his mainly Sunni coalition is the leadership of the new council, but there are likely to be tensions over how much power it will wield.