AP: "The head of a Sunni-backed political party will join the Shiite-led government being assembled by his top rival, a spokeswoman said Tuesday, clearing a final hurdle to end months of tortuous, postelection dealmaking.
The breakthrough cements what the Obama administration has been pushing for as U.S. troops prepare to leave Iraq by the end of 2011: an inclusive government that distributes power among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds to forge stability after more than seven years of war.
Former Premier Ayad Allawi had held out for months, insisting that he or one of his allies should be the next prime minister since his secular Iraqiya party narrowly won more seats than any other alliance in the March parliamentary election. He had long said he would refuse to join a government led by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom many Sunni Muslims view with suspicion.
But after what appeared to be a warm 90-minute meeting between the two on Tuesday, Iraqiya spokeswoman said Maysoun al-Damlouji said Allawi has agreed to join the government as head of a newly created council to oversee security and foreign policy issues.
Allawi's turnabout essentially gives him veto power over many of al-Maliki's top priorities. It also affords him the same salary as al-Maliki — to be set by the new parliament — that is believed to currently be at least $360,000 annually.
The detente came after intense lobbying by Vice President Joe Biden and two U.S. ambassadors. It was one of the last major hurdles Iraq's leaders wanted to clear before announcing the nation's new leaders within a constitutionally required negotiation period that ends Dec. 25."