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Jun 10, 2012, 11.12 PM IST
IRAQ-POLITICS:Foes of Iraq's Maliki cannot force confidence vote
By Patrick Markey
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Opponents of Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki failed to gather enough support for a no-confidence vote against the Shi'ite leader, keeping the government in a slow-burning crisis over power-sharing among Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish blocs.
A successful ballot would have been the most serious challenge to Maliki in his six years in office, potentially sinking the government and escalating sectarian tensions in a country still pulling back from years of war.
Iraq's President Jalal Talabani, a veteran Kurdish leader who has urged conciliation, said late on Saturday that Maliki's critics had failed to collect enough signatures from lawmakers to convince him to ask parliament for a vote of no confidence.
Talabani had asked for the petition as proof Maliki's foes had support before he would send a letter to the legislature asking for a ballot. Under the constitution, more than half of Iraq's 325 lawmakers must vote against Maliki to force him out.
"Because there was no quorum, even though the letter's text was ready, it was not sent to parliament," Talabani's office said in a statement.
It said opposition groups had sent 160 signatures but 11 were later withdrawn and another two suspended, leaving 147 signatures in support of a vote of no confidence - short of the majority needed if a ballot had gone before parliament. The office did not say why signatures were suspended.
Since the last U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in December, almost nine years after the invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, OPEC member Iraq has been mired in political turmoil among the blocs in its fragile cross-sectarian government.
Sunni and Kurdish are leading the campaign for a vote of no confidence, but Shi'ite lawmakers allied to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have recently joined them.
They were meeting on Sunday to decide on their strategy against a leader they believe is becoming increasingly authoritarian. Maliki backers dismiss those charges, pointing to key Sunni and Kurdish-held posts in government.
One alternative for opponents would be to try to call Maliki before parliament for questioning, pushing for a negative performance by the prime minister that could muster more backing for a no-confidence vote against him.
But that would still require a majority of lawmakers to vote him out, and time is short with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starting next month when Iraqi politics grind to a standstill.
"The critics are left with the more time-consuming option of questioning Maliki before parliament and then bring a no-confidence vote subsequent to that," said Reidar Visser, editor of the Iraq political history website www.historiae.org
"The timetable is likely to give Maliki further advantages as the incumbent and he will probably continue to play for time."
Maliki's National Alliance coalition is the largest in parliament and opponents have struggled to form a united front against a leader who has proven adept at the horse-trading and alliance-building of fractious post-Saddam politics.
Violence in Iraq has fallen sharply, but Sunni Islamists linked to al Qaeda are still potent and often hit Shi'ite targets in an attempt to stir up the sectarian conflict that drove the country to the edge of civil war in 2006-2007.
(Additional reporting by Aseel Kami; Editing by Pravin Char)
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