NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Saturday his party would not compromise on its choice of government leader, resisting pressure from potential coalition partners for him to step aside.
Iraq is still without a government almost three months after an inconclusive March 7 parliamentary election, won by the cross-sectarian Iraqiya bloc of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
Iraqiya fell short of a majority, and Maliki's mainly Shi'ite State of Law bloc, which came second, is negotiating with the third-place, Iranian-backed Iraqi National Alliance to form a coalition government.
State of Law want Maliki to remain at the helm of government, but he is opposed by a key component of INA, the Sadrist political movement of anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mehdi Army militia was crushed by government forces dispatched by Maliki in 2008.
Asked whether State of Law might propose a compromise candidate, Maliki replied: "Absolutely not. State of Law insists on its candidate."
"Forming a government requires understandings, not concessions, based on the constitution," he said after meeting Iraq's most revered Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf, some 160 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad.
He said the two groups were close to agreeing on a name for their alliance, formalising its position as the largest bloc in the 325-seat parliament.
Maliki says this will give it the right to try to form a government ahead of Iraqiya, which won the election by a two-seat margin. Allawi disputes this.
Iraqiya, led by secular Shi'ite Allawi and heavily backed by voters from Iraq's Sunni minority, has warned Iraq risks sliding back into the sectarian bloodshed of 2006-07 if the coalition is left out of government.
Maliki said he expected a new name for the bloc to be decided before the new parliament convenes for the first time within 15 days of the Supreme Court ratifying the election results. The court has yet to rule.
An alliance between State of Law and INA would still fall four seats short of a majority, but may find support from the Kurdish alliance and possibly some Sunnis from the Iraqiya bloc.
Writing by Matt Robinson in Baghdad; Editing by Charles Dick