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Elections seen as only answer in crisis-hit Iraq

BAGHDAD -- Massive rallies, a powerful cleric predicting an “Iraq spring” and Arabs and Kurds at loggerheads: Iraq is mired in a cycle of interlocking crises with elections increasingly seen as the only solution.

Almost since the moment the last U.S. troops withdrew in December 2011, the country has been locked in a wave of disputes between political, ethnic and religious factions, with no significant laws passed since polls in March 2010.

And now, talk has revived of early elections in a bid to break a deadlock that only appears to be getting worse.

“Early elections might be the best solution,” said Ihsan al-Shammari, a professor of politics at Baghdad University. “If these matters deepen, they will worsen divisions, and that's a very dangerous matter.”

Provincial elections are set for April, with national polls not due until next year, but politicians in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law bloc have revived talk of dissolving parliament, initially mooted by the premier last June.

For the moment, the cabinet and parliament continue to meet, and while Maliki supporters may back new elections, an absolute majority of lawmakers is required to dissolve the 325-member Council of Representatives.

Analysts say Maliki has managed to survive thanks to tactical guile and poor organisation by his opponents, although he reportedly had to rely on Iran's backing to see off an effort to withdraw confidence from his government last year.

The latest crises reflect the lack of long-term solutions to years-old disputes, between Arabs and Kurds, between the central government in Baghdad and local authorities, and between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

Analysts and officials often point to the unresolved row between the autonomous Kurdish region and Baghdad as the greatest long-term threat to the future stability of the country.

Recent months have seen tensions over the issue rise to arguably unprecedented levels, with both sides massing troops along a tract of disputed territory, and as disagreements over the dispersal of oil revenues persist.

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