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Iraqi Parliament Fails to Elect Speaker


Iraq's parliament met Tuesday for the second time since it was elected two months ago, but the session was suspended as members failed to choose a speaker.

A leader of the Shi'ite alliance that controls more than one-half of the 275 parliamentary seats, Jawad al-Maliki, told reporters that parliament members want the minority Sunni Arab group to propose the candidate for speaker.

Mr. Jawad said lawmakers decided to give the Sunni group a few additional days to agree on its candidate. But if the group is not able to do so, he said there are Sunnis in the Shi'ite coalition who could become candidates.

The Shi'ites along with the Kurdish group, which won more than one-fourth of the seats in parliament, have a majority needed to form the new Iraqi government. But they have been negotiating for weeks to include Sunnis and other minorities in a unity government. The Sunnis are a major population group but won less than 20 seats because of a boycott of January's elections.

Negotiators had reportedly agreed the Iraqi presidency would be allocated to a Kurd, the post of prime minister to a Shi'ite and the job of assembly speaker to a Sunni. However, the agreement collapsed when the leading Sunni candidate for speaker, outgoing President Ghazi al-Yawer, turned down the post.

The negotiations delayed the start of Tuesday's session by several hours and when the meeting did open it quickly degenerated into bickering.

Minutes later, acting Chairman Sheikh Dhari al-Fayad ordered the session closed to the media.

The 87-year-old leader said he was the chairman and the media would leave. The remainder of the session was held behind closed doors.

Iraqis have expressed growing frustration over the delay in forming the government, saying political infighting is hindering efforts to stabilize the country two years after the war that overthrew Saddam Hussein.

A parliament member from the minority (Rafidain) Christian group, Yonadam Kanna, said parliament members are also frustrated.

"Very, very strong challenges are in front of us, like the security file, like the constitution, like the public services, and we are busy with who will be chairman and who will be spokesman and who will be vice president."

He said he hopes that the leaders of the three main political groups will agree soon on the leadership positions so that parliament can get down to the business of enacting laws and overseeing government.