Iraq's political rivals reached a breakthrough power-sharing deal in which Nuri al Maliki, a Shiite, retains the premiership, a spokesman said on Sunday, exactly eight months after inconclusive elections.
"An agreement was reached yesterday among the political parties in which the prime minister will stay on, and the Iraqiya party will choose its candidate for parliament speaker," government spokesman Ali al Dabbagh said.
The agreement was confirmed by former premier Iyad Allawi's Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, which won the most seats in the March 7 legislative election but fell short of a parliamentary majority.
Dabbagh said "there are still some problems to resolve but parliament will meet on Thursday to choose a speaker," the first step to forming a new government.
Maliki and Allawi would both attend a meeting in the northern city of Arbil on Monday for a formal ceremony to announce the agreement, the government spokesman said.
Iraqiya MP Jamal al Butikh said the bloc had agreed on the power-sharing deal after it was assured that "no political decision would be made without its agreement".
"Iraqiya will go to Arbil under al Allawi's leadership and because the party has been given reassurance in real power sharing," he said.
Sunday's announcement came after Iraqi Kurdistan's regional president, Massud Barzani, said he had invited all political groups to meet on Monday in the Kurdish capital to resolve the crisis.
Iraq's second general election since the 2003 US-led invasion ended in deadlock after none of the main parties won enough of the 325 seats in parliament to form a majority government.
Parliament has since remained in hiatus, except for a 20-minute oath-taking ceremony and another brief meeting at which acting speaker Fuad Massum declared an indefinite "open" session.
On October 24, Iraq's supreme court ordered parliament to resume work, after an alliance of civil society groups launched a legal case against Massum, accusing him of violating the constitution by leaving the session open.
The constitution stipulates that a speaker, president and prime minister must be elected in that order.
The Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc narrowly won the election with 91 seats, closely followed by Maliki's State of Law Alliance with 89.
Neither had been able to muster the 163-seat majority required in the parliament, despite intense back-door negotiations with various Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs which also picked up seats.
Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which together won 43 seats, had entered into an alliance with Goran and two Kurdish Islamic parties that won six places.
The 57-seat bloc gave the alliance the muscle to decide who would form the next government, but Goran's exit has weakened their position.
But Goran, with eight seats, said last month it had pulled out of the alliance last month.
The MPs pulled out of the alliance after their proposed reforms for greater democracy in the autonomous Kurdistan region were ignored, Goran said in a statement on Friday.