IRBIL, Iraq – Iraq's prime minister said Saturday he's still seeking Cabinet nominations from the country's top politicians, signaling he likely will not form a new government much earlier than the Dec. 25 deadline.
Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, had pledged to announce his new government by Dec. 15 and end the political deadlock that began after parliamentary elections in March failed to produce a clear winner. The delay announced Saturday reflects al-Maliki's struggle to cobble together an inclusive government.
But al-Maliki assured political leaders Saturday that he remains committed to meeting a 30-day constitutional deadline — ending Dec. 25 — to bring together Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions in a government that can overcome enduring sectarian tensions, and appealed for their help to do so.
"I call upon all blocs to quickly present their candidates," al-Maliki said at a meeting of the Kurdish Democratic Party, promising to announce Iraq's new leadership by Dec. 25.
He also warned politicians not to get distracted with "marginal issues" since the clock is ticking. "We are facing a constitutional deadline and we will not tolerate exceeding it," he said.
Saturday's meeting in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq's north, was also attended by Sunni and Shiite Arab politicians with whom al-Maliki has had to create uneasy alliances after his political party fell short of winning a majority of seats in parliament.
The new government is expected to include all the major factions, including the Kurds, Shiite political parties aligned with Iran and a Sunni-backed bloc that narrowly won the election.
It will have a slew of issues to tackle, including developing the struggling economy and preventing a resurgence of violence as the last American troops leave by the end of next year.
Al-Maliki's comments followed a speech by Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, who reaffirmed his stance that the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk should be included in his self-rule region. Kirkuk, located 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad, lies in a swath of land that Kurds and Sunni Arabs each claim should be under their control. It is also located on top of some of Iraq's largest oil fields, making it a lucrative prize for both sides.
Barzani said Kirkuk should be what he called "an example of coexistence."
"We believe in the principle of participation in governance, and cannot be compromising on the identity of Kirkuk (in) Kurdistan," he said.
Al-Maliki secured a second-term in large part because of support from Kurdish parties that backed him after months of closed-door negotiations following the election.
The future of Kirkuk is expected to be determined by a long delayed census that will show how many Kurds and Arabs live in the oil-rich city.
Also Saturday, an off-duty policeman was killed in a drive-by shooting in the northern city of Mosul, police and hospital officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.