Fouad Masoum, a veteran Kurdish politician, was elected president of Iraq amid a political deadlock aggravated by an Islamist insurgency that has seized major cities.
Masoum, 76, was elected to the largely ceremonial position after winning a second-round ballot with 211 votes to 17 for his competitor, Hussein Al-Mousawi, after no candidate won a majority in the first round, parliament speaker Saleem al-Jibouri said. Masoum, like his predecessor Jalal Talabani, is a founding members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
The new president has 15 days to invite the largest alliance in the legislature to name a prime minister-elect and form a government. Incumbent prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is seeking a third term amid accusations by Kurdish and Sunni politicians, as well as some former Shiite allies, of leading a divisive, sectarian government that has fueled the violence.
Political haggling in Iraq, the world’s fifth-largest crude oil reserves, is delaying a concerted government attempt to curb advances by the Islamic State, that took over Mosul, the largest city in the country’s north, and then captured a string of other towns. The al-Qaeda breakaway group now controls territory in both Iraq and Syria, taking over oil wells and fighting for control of refineries to fund its offensive.
Forces from the semi-autonomous Kurdish region have also taken control of the northern oil hub Kirkuk. The president of the Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, has announced plans for a referendum to annex Kirkuk, followed by a vote on independence for the Kurdish enclave.
Talabani, the country’s first Kurdish president, had sought to ease conflicts between Iraq’s rival ethnic and religious factions. He returned this month from Germany where he had been receiving medical treatment since suffering a stroke in December 2012.
Masoum is known for having good relations with the two other main communities in the country, the Sunni and Shiite Muslim Arabs. He holds a PhD in Islamic studies from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and was a professor at Basra University in southern Iraq, according to a statement from the PUK.
Under an agreement reached about a decade ago, the speaker of parliament is a Sunni, the president is a Kurd and the prime minister comes from the majority Shiite community. Jibouri was elected parliament speaker July 15.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alaric Nightingale at email@example.com Jack Fairweather, Ben Holland