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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - About 20 of Iraq's newly minted lawmakers including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and key ministers may not be able to take their seats due to a legal hurdle that demonstrates the growing pains of a new democracy.
The Iraqi constitution does not allow a member of parliament to hold an executive post in the government.
Nothing in the law makes an exception for a newly elected MP who also holds a job as an executive in the last government, which is staying in place until a new one is formed.
Among those facing the issue are Maliki, vice presidents Tareq al-Hashemi and Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Deputy Prime Minister Rafie al-Esawi and at least nine cabinet ministers including Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani.
A special committee has been formed to suggest solutions.
"From the moment of the (first) session, this government and the presidency council will lose their legitimacy," said Aliah Nissaif Jassim, a parliamentarian-elect with the Iraqiya bloc.
Officials said they did not believe the constitutional snag would hold up the formation of a new government, more than three months after Iraqis voted in an election they hoped would help stabilize their nation after years of sectarian war.
But it is indicative of the holes in the Iraqi constitution, written after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, some of which threaten serious political dispute.
The first and second-placed blocs in the March 7 vote are at loggerheads over who has the right to form the next government because of differing interpretations of the constitution, a row that could potentially spill over into the streets.
Iraq's Supreme Court last week certified the final results of the election, affirming a two-seat lead for a cross-sectarian bloc led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
But Allawi's Iraqiya alliance fell short of a majority, and Maliki's mainly Shi'ite State of Law coalition is trying to outmanoeuvre him with a tie-up with third-placed Shi'ite bloc the Iraqi National Alliance. President Jalal Talabani has scheduled the first session of the new parliament for Monday.
Maliki's government has acknowledged it faces a problem. The prime minister and the others would have to resign from government on the eve of the first session of parliament if they want to take their seats.
But officials said there would be no constitutional crisis.
"I think that the constitutional and parliamentary experience (in this country) is new," said Safaaeddine al-Safi, minister of state for parliamentary affairs. "These things may appear. Now that they have emerged, they can be addressed."
Those who hold executive posts could defer their swearing-in - they would not be able to cast votes - until a new government has been agreed. Those with executive jobs in the new government would then resign their seats, and the others could be sworn in.
"This is one of the suggested solutions," al-Safi said.
Editing by Jim Loney and Samia Nakhoul