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Iraq’s high court orders parliament to get back to work

Iraq’s highest court on Sunday ordered the country’s idled parliament back to work, in a ruling that could help break the seven-month deadlock in the negotiations to form a new government.

The chief judge of the Federal Supreme Court, Midhat Mahmoud, said at a news conference that the court had ruled unconstitutional the parliament’s failure to meet since June or to fulfill its duty to elect a speaker and choose a new president, as stipulated in the constitution.

The 325-member parliament elected in March has met only once, on June 14 for 18 minutes. In an attempt to get around rules requiring lawmakers to elect a speaker at the first session and the president within 30 days of that, members declared the June session “open” — a maneuver that appeared to give them unlimited time to negotiate the new government.

Fuad Massum, the acting speaker of parliament, said he expected to summon legislators to meet again within the next two weeks. “If some people don’t want to come, that’s not my responsibility,” he said.

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The ruling may play into the hands of incumbent Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, whose State of Law coalition is closest to securing the parliamentary majority required to form a government.

After winning the support of the faction loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr in a deal brokered by Iran, Maliki now needs only the backing of the Kurds to secure a majority.

Kurdish and State of Law officials say the two blocs are close to an agreement and have begun discussing the division of Cabinet seats.

But U.S. officials are pressuring the factions to hold out for a broader agreement that would also give a role to the mostly Sunni Iraqiya faction, led by the secular Shiite former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Iraqiya, which narrowly won the most seats in the inconclusive elections, broke off talks with Maliki last month, and so far U.S. efforts to persuade them to resume discussions have failed.

It is also unclear whether the Kurds, who are closely allied with the U.S., will agree to join with Maliki if Iraqiya is not represented.

State of Law legislator Khaled Asadi welcomed the court’s decision and said Maliki’s bloc would press ahead with its plans to form a government even if it means leaving Iraqiya behind.

“We had hoped for more time to include Iraqiya, but seeing as this was ordered by the Federal Court, we have to oblige,” he said.

Iraqiya issued a statement in parliament saying it viewed the court’s decision as unconstitutional and would refuse to attend the session if there was no overall agreement.

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The court’s decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by a consortium of civil society groups, known as the Civil Initiative to Preserve the Constitution. Ali Anbori, a spokesman for the group, hailed the ruling as an important step toward upholding Iraq’s much manipulated constitution, which was drawn up five years ago.

“It doesn’t matter if some political parties are happier than others,” he said. “For us the most important thing is to observe the constitution and end this political crisis.”

liz.sly@latimes.com

Times staff writer Raheem Salman contributed to this report.

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