Iraqi parliament breaks deadlock to elect speaker
By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA and SINAN SALAHEDDIN
the associated press | July 16,2014
This image taken with a mobile phone through a car windshield shows a fighter with the Islamic State group taking control of a traffic intersection in central Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday. The panic that initially gripped Iraq after Sunni militants led by the Islamic State extremist group seized the country’s second-largest city, Mosul, and swept across northern and western Iraq has largely subsided.
BAGHDAD — Iraqi lawmakers broke two weeks of deadlock Tuesday and elected a moderate Sunni as speaker of parliament, taking the first step toward forming a new government that is widely seen as crucial to confronting militants who have overrun much of the country.
Still, it was not clear whether lawmakers had reached a larger deal that would also include an agreement on the most contentious decision — the choice for prime minister. The incumbent, Nouri al-Maliki, has ruled the country since 2006, but is under intense pressure to step aside. So far, he has insisted on staying for a third term.
After voting behind closed doors, the legislature tallied the results on a whiteboard wheeled into the hall that showed Sunni lawmaker Salim al-Jubouri winning with 194 votes out of 273 cast in the 328-seat parliament. A second candidate, Shorooq al-Abayachi, received 19 votes. There were 60 abstentions.
“Today’s step demonstrates the country’s democracy and national unity,” said Shiite lawmaker Abbas al-Bayati, putting a decidedly positive spin on a vote that was delayed twice. “We have now a legislative body that can do its job in building democracy.”
Lawmakers broke into applause after al-Jubouri passed the 165-vote threshold needed to win the post, and some of his colleagues padded over to offer their congratulations.
According to the constitution, parliament now has 30 days to elect a president, who will then have 15 days to ask the leader of the largest bloc in the legislature to form a government. Then a prime minister will be picked.
Under an informal agreement that took hold after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the speaker’s chair goes to a Sunni, the presidency to a Kurd and the prime minister’s post to a Shiite.
The inability of al-Maliki’s government to halt the militant offensive over the past month has deeply shaken confidence, both at home and abroad, in his ability to hold Iraq together. His opponents — and even many of his former allies — accuse him of trying to monopolize power and alienating the Sunni minority.
Al-Maliki has so far refused to withdraw his candidacy, and insists he has a mandate because his bloc won the most seats in April elections.
Despite al-Jubouri’s election, signs quickly emerged that any agreement on a president, prime minister and eventually a new Cabinet may still take some time.
Al-Bayati, the State of Law coalition legislator, said the Shiite bloc’s support for al-Jubouri Tuesday was predicated upon reciprocal support for al-Maliki’s prime minister bid.
“There is an ethical and political agreement with the blocs to whom we gave our vote today to support their candidate for the post of parliament speaker, and to vote for our candidate for the post of prime minister: al-Maliki” al-Bayati said.
Sunni lawmaker Mohammed Ikbal, a member of al-Jubouri’s bloc, denied there was any such deal.
“We do not support a third term (for al-Maliki) because of the wrong policies in the country and the deterioration in the security situation,” Ikbal told The Associated Press. “We support any other candidate from the National Alliance.”