Iraq parliament speaker threatens to oust premier

BAGHDAD (AP) — The speaker of  Iraq’s parliament declared Thursday that lawmakers are prepared to oust the  nation’s prime minister if he refuses to share authority with his political  opponents and break a deadlock that has all but paralyzed  the government.

The threat by the speaker, Osama  al-Nujaifi, a leader in the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya  political coalition, counters a claim last week by Iraq’s president that  there is not enough support in parliament to call a vote to push Prime Minister Nouri  al-Maliki from power.

Speaking to reporters Thursday,  al-Nujaifi said he personally believes al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, should step  down from the job that he barely won after national elections in 2010 failed to  produce a clear winner.

Since then — and particularly  after U.S. troops left Iraq last December — critics have accused al-Maliki of  sidelining his political opponents and violating agreements to share power  within a unity government.

The political deadlock has all  but brought Iraq’s government to a standstill so far this year.

Bickering between the  Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad and the self-rule Kurdish region in  Iraq’s north threatens to stunt vital foreign investment in the country’s  lucrative oil industry.

Provinces with majority Sunni  populations have threatened to create their own autonomous regions. Political  lethargy, combined with red tape, has delayed improvements in many areas,  including the nation’s electricity system, job creation and rooting out  government corruption.

The deadlock has continued  against a backdrop of sporadic but deadly bursts of violence: 120 Iraqis have  been killed over the last 10 days alone in bombings mostly targeting Shiite  pilgrims and security officials across Baghdad and beyond.

“This is a dangerous matter that  if continued would lead to catastrophic consequences,” al-Nujaifi said as  parliament prepared to return to work after a six-week recess.

He said al-Maliki would be  summoned for questioning in front of parliament within days. “And if there is a  parliament majority that is not convinced with the results of the questioning,  then the no-confidence vote will take place,” al-Nujaifi said. He called the  process “an attempt to put the country on the right track again.”

In April, heeding complaints  from his followers, hard-line Shiite cleric Muqtada  al-Sadr met with Sunni and Kurdish leaders in what was widely viewed as a  summit to plot al-Maliki’s ouster. But on Thursday, al-Sadr released a statement  on his website saying “he tends not to intervene” in such matters.

Last week, Iraqi President Jalal  Talabani, a Kurd, said a preliminary count of lawmakers who want al-Maliki  to step down fell four short of the 163 votes needed to force the issue.  Al-Nujaifi denied that, saying that while a few lawmakers backed off, “the  number is still enough.”

Responding, the prime minister’s  media adviser, Ali  al-Moussawi, said al-Maliki will answer parliament’s questions and respects  his opponents’ rights to call for the no-confidence vote. “But we are confident  that they will fail to secure the needed … votes,” al-Moussawi  said Thursday.

Al-Maliki also has called for a  special session of parliament to address lawmakers in public, said Safa  al-Din al-Safi, the state minister for parliament affairs. A date for that  session has not yet been set.

Al-Nujaifi also said he, too,  would step down if enough lawmakers voted to expel him — a process he said was  firmly guaranteed under Iraq’s constitution.

“Iraq has efficient and  qualified people and figures who can lead Iraq and who can take Iraq into a new  horizon,” he said. “Now we are in severe political crisis and we hope to get out  of it.