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Iraqi Parliament Elects Speaker after Weeks of Deadlock

  • Scott Bobb

Iraq's recently elected parliament has elected a speaker, ending weeks of deadlock that virtually paralyzed government. Senior leaders say they will move next to elect a president and prime minister.

The Iraqi parliament, Sunday, overwhelmingly chose Industry Minister Hajem al-Hassani, a Sunni Arab, as speaker. And it elected a Shi'ite, former nuclear scientist Hussein al-Shahristani, and a Kurdish politician, Arif Taifour, to be his deputies.

Mr. Hajem said he hoped the vote would restore popular confidence in the government after weeks of uncertainty.

"We have to work on the constitution, because that is an urgent thing," he said. "And, also, we have to finish formation of the government, because we have a lot of things to accomplish."

The parliament was to choose its speaker last week, but the session ended in disarray, after delegates failed to agree on a candidate, despite weeks of talks.

Mr. Hajem, in his acceptance speech, said it was time for Iraqis to set aside religious and sectarian differences, and think as one people.

He said all Iraqis, whether Muslim or Christian, Sunni or Shi'ite, Arab or Kurd, have the right to live in a democratic, multi-ethnic, federal state. And he received an ovation when he urged politicians to pledge allegiance to the homeland, rather than to any one party, sect or ethnicity.

Senior leaders say, within days, they will elect a president and two vice presidents. This presidential council will name the prime minister, who will have two weeks to form his cabinet.

They say they have agreed that Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani is to become president, while Shi'ite politician Ibrahim Jaafari will be named prime minister.

Mr. Jaafari told reporters it was a great day during which most disagreements were resolved.

He said negotiations would continue in the same manner in order to defuse any crisis.

Leaders from the various groups say agreement on many ministries has been reached, but that negotiations continue on some major portfolios.

During the session, a mortar exploded near the fortified Green Zone, where the parliament was meeting. No injuries were reported.

In addition, U.S. forces battled insurgents for an hour Saturday night at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. Officials say some 40 U.S. soldiers and a dozen Iraqi prisoners were wounded in the attack.

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