BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi politicians appeared to have broken an eight month political impasse on Wednesday when the Sunni-backed Iraqiya alliance agreed to take part in a new government headed by incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Maliki inched closer to a final deal to secure a second term on a day when bomb and mortar attacks targeting Christians across the Iraqi capital killed at least three people and wounded dozens of others.
After a meeting of Iraqi political leaders, a senior lawmaker from the cross-sectarian Iraqiya coalition headed by former prime minister Iyad Allawi told Reuters the bloc would join a Maliki government.
The decision offered hope that the next government would include enough Sunni representation to ease the chances of a return to the sectarian violence that killed tens of thousands of people after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.
Iraqiya will meet on Thursday to sort out lingering disagreements and choose a nominee from the party for speaker of parliament, said the lawmaker, who asked not to be named.
Parliament was scheduled to meet on Thursday for just the second time since an inconclusive election in March.
Iraq has been without a new government since the vote, which gave Iraqiya two more seats than Maliki's bloc. Neither had enough for a majority in parliament, leaving the factions to negotiate a government.
Iraqiya joins a Kurdish alliance in supporting Maliki following months of contentious negotiations that raised tensions in Iraq as the army and police try to cement security gains against a stubborn insurgency.
Last month, Maliki toured capitals in the region -- from Iran and Syria to Turkey and Egypt -- to gain regional backing for his effort to stay in power. He offered Arab nations investment deals in Iraq in exchange for nudging Iraqiya towards a compromise, political sources said.
Over the past months, Iraqiya had repeatedly rejected another Maliki term and demanded the right to form the government as the top vote winner in the election.
"Tomorrow in parliament, it will be the beginning of forming not just the government, but forming the Iraqi state," said Maliki on Wednesday. "God willing, we will go ahead."
Parliament met briefly in June but lawmakers said they needed more time to decide who would hold the highest offices. Last month, Iraq's high court ordered parliament to resume its sessions, putting pressure on politicians to expedite a deal.
The long deadlock has fuelled tension even though the sectarian carnage unleashed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion is receding while U.S. forces prepare to withdraw in 2011.
A series of attacks on Christian targets across Baghdad on Wednesday stirred renewed fear in the minority community. The bomb and mortar blasts occurred just 10 days after a bloody siege at a Catholic cathedral that killed 52.
Politicians from Maliki's Shi'ite grouping, the National Alliance, said they would go ahead with government formation as long as they had a political majority and even if other blocs chose to boycott the parliamentary session.
"We do not imagine a government that does not represent all Iraq's factions ... But the government does not and will not stop, God forbid, if a list stays behind," Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a senior member of the National Alliance, told a news conference.
Haidar al-Ibadi, an influential lawmaker from Maliki's Dawa party, said his bloc has agreed with others, including the Kurdish Alliance, which has 57 seats, to attend Thursday's parliamentary session even if others chose to stay away.
"We want a national sharing government but if some parliament members insist on not attending, this is up to them," he said.
Iraqi political leaders began a series of talks on Monday to try to agree on a government of national unity that would include Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds. They were expected to reach a final deal on the top posts before the parliamentary session on Thursday.
The government needs a component representing the minority Sunnis if it is to try to heal old sectarian wounds. Excluding Iraqiya could anger its Sunni voters and reinvigorate the Sunni Islamist insurgency.
Under the expected deal, Maliki would remain prime minister and Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, would retain the presidency.
Iraqiya would take the speaker's post, the foreign ministry and a role with possibly expanded authority over defence issues, the economy and foreign affairs.