BAGHDAD — Iraq's Shiite vice president finally agreed Wednesday to sign a presidential decree calling parliament into session, a critical but precarious step in forming a government.
Adel Abdul Mehdi's signature cleared the way for the muchdelayed first session as early as Sunday but also openly signaled a fundamental disagreement within once-unified majority Shiite Muslim ranks.
The dispute centers on Shiite interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari's bid for a second term, which is opposed by a coalition of Sunni Arab, Kurdish and secular Shiite politicians -- led by President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd.
The president has openly challenged Jafari's candidacy on the grounds he is too divisive and would be unable to form a government representing all Iraq's religious and ethnic factions. There has also been great unease over Jafari's close ties to radical anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr.
Holding a first session of parliament is a required step toward forming a new government. Fifteen days after the first meeting, the legislature is supposed to elect a new president -- a job Talabani wants to keep. In 15 more days, the parliament is to approve the nominated prime minister and 30 days after that must vote on his Cabinet.