Iraq’s PM ends second round of talks

Iraq’s caretaker prime minister held a second round of talks Monday with Iraqi leaders aimed at resolving the ongoing political crisis between rival Shiite blocs, but the representatives of an influential cleric failed once again to attend the gathering.

The seat reserved for Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s party was empty as Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi met with al-Sadr’s chief political rivals in the Iran-backed camp, as well as President Barham Salih and U.N. representative Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert. While Al-Sadr’s representatives failed to attend the meeting, the dissolution of parliament and an immediate election are key demands of Al-Sadr and his bloc.

Al-Sadr’s continued absence from the talks will likely render futile al-Kadhimi’s efforts to broker a solution to Iraq’s 11-month crisis. The participants “renewed the invitation” to al-Sadr’s camp “to participate” in the meetings, according to a statement from al-Kadhimi’s office.

They “agreed to form a technical committee comprising the various political forces … to bridge differences with the aim of reaching early elections,” Al-Kadhimi’s office said after the talks.

Al-Sadr and his Iran-backed political rivals have been at odds since parliamentary elections in October last year. Al-Sadr won the largest share of seats but failed to form a majority government. Since then Iraq has been mired in political deadlock without a new government, president or prime minister.

While al-Sadr’s rivals agree in principle to holding early polls they disagree on how it should be carried out. Al-Sadr is demanding that the judiciary dissolve the legislature but the Coordination Framework insist parliament should convene to do this. The rival camps are also at odds over the electoral law that would govern the polls, which the Coordination Framework wants amended.

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