Iraqi lawmakers today elected a speaker of parliament, completing the first step in forming a new government after a two-week deadlock hobbled efforts to counter an Islamist insurgency that has seized major cities.
There were no indications that Iraq’s main feuding political alliances were nearer to agreeing on a candidate for prime minister following April’s inconclusive national elections. Incumbent Nouri al-Maliki, who has vowed to fight for a third term, has so far failed to garner the support he needs.
Saleem Al-Jibouri, a member of the legislature’s largest Sunni Muslim bloc and former head of the human-rights committee, won 194 votes in the 328-member house to become speaker, according to state-sponsored Iraqiya television. He replaces Usama al-Nujaifi, who has held the job since 2010 and is a leading critic of Maliki.
Parliament must now elect a president by the end of July, who will then have 15 days to invite the largest alliance in the legislature to name a prime minister-elect and form a government. Maliki has been accused by Sunni politicians and some former Shiite allies of leading a divisive, sectarian government that has fueled the violence. His Shiite-led coalition won the most seats in April without securing a majority.
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.
Iraq’s political haggling is delaying a concerted government attempt to curb advances by an al-Qaeda breakaway group, called the Islamic State, that last month stormed into Mosul, the largest city in the country’s north, and then captured a string of other towns. It now controls territory in both Iraq and Syria, taking over oil wells and fighting for control of refineries to fund its offensive.
Fighting raged today in and around Tikrit, the hometown of former President Saddam Hussein, who was ousted by America-led forces during a 2003 invasion. Guerrillas of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, were attempting to keep control of a key air base.
At least 29 soldiers and volunteers were killed when two cars carrying suicide bombers drove into a military convoy south of Tikrit, the Almada news agency reported.
More than a month after the insurgents routed government forces in Mosul, Iraqi politicians and world leaders are working to prevent the country from rupturing along religious and ethnic fault-lines.
In the north, Kurdish forces have extended their territory to include the oil hub of Kirkuk, and the president of the already largely autonomous region, Massoud Barzani, has spoken of a formal referendum on independence. The Kurds have suspended their participation in Maliki’s administration.