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IRAQ PARLIAMENT IN PERIL

Lawmakers squabble over budget and provincial powers. The speaker threatens to disband, citing budget and other disputes.

The speaker of Iraq's fragmented Parliament threatened Tuesday to disband the legislature, saying it is so riddled with distrust it appears unable to adopt the budget or agree on a law setting a date for provincial elections.

Disbanding Parliament would prompt new elections within 60 days and further undermine Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's shaky government, which is limping along with nearly half of the 40 Cabinet posts vacant.

The disarray undermines the purpose of last year's U.S. troop "surge" - to bring down violence enough to allow the Iraqi government and Parliament to focus on measures to reconcile differences among minority Sunnis and Kurds and the majority Shiites. Violence is down significantly, but political progress languishes.

Iraq's constitution allows Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the hot-tempered speaker and a member of the minority Sunni faction, to dissolve Parliament if one-third of its members request the move and a majority of lawmakers approve. Mashhadani said he already had sufficient backing for the move from five political blocs, but he refused to name them.

He said the Iraqi treasury had already lost $3-billion by failing to pass the budget before the end of 2007. He did not explain how the money was lost.

He blamed the lack of a budget on Kurdish politicians who have refused to back down from a demand that their regional and semiautonomous government be guaranteed 17 percent of national income.

The 17 percent formula for Kurds was applied to past budgets, but some Sunni and Shiite lawmakers sought to lower it to about 14 percent. The argument is that the Kurdish population is closer to 14 percent of Iraq's total, rather than 17 percent as Kurds insist. There has been no census in decades.

Shiite lawmakers walked out of the rare night session Tuesday when the Kurds refused to drop their demand to lump the budget vote together with two other contested measures. The Kurds said they feared being double-crossed on the budget, which now calls for restoration of the 17 percent Kurdish share, if parliamentarians voted on the laws separately.

FAST FACTS

The latest

Kidnapping condemned: Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's office condemned the kidnapping of two CBS journalists in the southern city of Basra, while Iraqi police said an intensive search was under way for the men. CBS News confirmed Monday that two of its journalists were missing but asked that they not be identified.

Body found: The bullet-riddled body of Iraqi newspaper reporter Hisham Muchawat Hamdan was recovered Tuesday in Baghdad. Hamdan, 27 and a father of two, was a member of Iraq's Young Journalists' League and reported for three local newspapers.

Aid sought: The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies announced a campaign Tuesday to raise $19-million to provide food, other supplies and health care to 900,000 of the neediest Iraqis.

Times Wires

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