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Iraqi governing talks suspended in wake of 'Sunni list' reference

By Jomana Karadsheh, CNN
Photographed here in April, former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's candidate list was described as a "Sunni list".
Photographed here in April, former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's candidate list was described as a "Sunni list".
  • Allawi's al-Iraqiya list announced the suspension Monday
  • A group spokesman cited al-Maliki's reference to Allawi's "Sunni List"
  • Allawi is a secular Shiite whose list garnered most of the Sunni-Arab vote

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's al-Iraqiya party announced Monday that it was suspending talks with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's coalition in response to comments he made in a television interview.

Maysoon al-Damalouji, a spokeswoman for al-Iraqiya, told CNN the group decided to suspend negotiations after al-Maliki described Allawi's candidate list as a "Sunni list" in an interview aired Monday by the U.S.-funded network Alhurra.

Al-Damalouji said they were demanding an apology to the supporters of al-Iraqiya.

Allawi, a secular Shiite, heads the cross-sectarian al-Iraqiya list, which won the largest number of seats in the inconclusive March 7 national elections. Al-Iraqiya garnered most of the Sunni-Arab vote.

More than five months after the vote, the four top blocs are involved in weeks-long negotiations to try to build a coalition with enough seats to form a government.

A fragile mega-Shiite coalition was formed in May between al-Maliki's State of Law and the Iranian-backed Iranian National Alliance, which includes the followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, but the coalition collapsed this month after the INA rejected al-Maliki's nomination for a second term.

Allawi and Maliki both claim the right to lead the next government. The two blocs have been holding talks.

To form a government, a 163-seat majority of 325 seats in parliament is needed.

Allawi's mainly secular al-Iraqiya bloc, which gathered most of the Sunni support, had a narrow victory with 91 seats, while al-Maliki won 89.

Western and Iraqi officials, including Allawi, have said Iraq's next government must be inclusive and representative, or violence could result.

Sunnis largely boycotted the 2005 elections, leading to the emergence of a Shiite-led government. The move left the once-ruling minority feeling alienated, contributing to a bloody insurgency and a sectarian war that gripped Iraq for years.

Extremist groups, mainly al Qaeda in Iraq, are known to take advantage of political fissures to carry out more attacks to create further turmoil.

Many Iraqis have blamed a recent wave of violence on the current political crisis. This comes as U.S. forces continue their drawdown ahead of President Barack Obama's August 31 deadline for ending all combat operations. A residual U.S. force of 50,000 troops would have a mission limited to stability operations and advising and assisting Iraqi Security Forces.