Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Iraq Parliament Finds a Quorum Hard to Come By


BAGHDAD, Jan. 23 — Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the speaker of Parliament, read a roll call of the 275 elected members with a goal of shaming the no-shows.

Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister? Absent, living in Amman and London. Adnan Pachachi, the octogenarian statesman? Also gone, in Abu Dhabi.

Others who failed to appear Monday included Saleh Mutlak, a senior Sunni legislator; several Shiites and Kurds; and Ayad al-Samaraei, chairman of the finance committee, whose absence led Mr. Mashhadani to ask: “When will he be back? After we approve the budget?”

It was a joke barbed with outrage. Parliament in recent months has been at a standstill. Nearly every session since November has been adjourned because as few as 65 members made it to work, even as they and the absentees earned salaries and benefits worth about $120,000.

Part of the problem is security, but Iraqi officials also said they feared that members were losing confidence in the institution and in the country’s fragile democracy. As chaos has deepened, Parliament’s relevance has gradually receded.

Deals on important legislation, most recently the oil law, now take place largely out of public view, with Parliament — when it meets — rubber-stamping the final decisions. As a result, officials said, vital legislation involving the budget, provincial elections and amendments to the Constitution remain trapped in a legislative process that processes nearly nothing. American officials long hoped that Parliament could help foster dialogue between Iraq’s increasingly fractured ethnic and religious groups, but that has not happened, either. .....

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