CAIRO - Despite attempts to prevent a vote, the Iraqi parliament elected Sunni politician Selim al-Jabouri as its new speaker on Tuesday. The conflict, however, over who will fill the more important positions of prime minister and president remains unresolved.
The Iraqi parliament broke an impasse Tuesday, electing its new speaker, with a majority of 194 votes. Two previous sessions had ended in a deadlock, after key political blocs withdrew, preventing a necessary quorum for the vote to take place.
In a sign of a political thaw, members of parliament loyal to former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi agreed to attend Tuesday's session, and were sworn in, after boycotting the two previous sessions.
One Shi'ite member of parliament complained the vote was unconstitutional, due to what she claimed were illegal procedures. The vote, however, went ahead without a hitch.
Despite unruly outbursts from several members of parliament and commotion at several points in the debate, rival Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish political factions appeared eager to reach some sort of an agreement.
The conflict over who will be Iraq's prime minister, though, remains unresolved. Outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is hoping to retain his position for a third term. He faces major opposition from Sunni, Kurdish and some Shi'ite political blocs.
Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, thinks that only by finding a replacement for Maliki will Iraq's thorny political conflict be resolved.
"The most important development for putting Iraq on the road to national reconciliation has to do with finding a replacement for al-Maliki. Maliki is unacceptable to Sunni Arabs, to Kurds and to many Iraqi Shi'ites," said Khashan. "However, Jabouri's election represents a step in the right direction."
Tenuous situation ahead
Former Parliament Speaker Osama Nujeify told journalists that Maliki's possible re-election as prime minister would mean a further deterioration of the situation in the country and that there is consensus among most politicians over the need for a change.
Al-Arabiya TV reported that Maliki met at length Tuesday with the new parliament speaker Selim al-Jabouri, ostensibly to request his support. Jabouri has said in the past that he would not support a third term for Maliki.
On the ground, government forces claimed to have recaptured the southern part of former leader Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. There was no independent confirmation of the claim. Government forces have been battling Sunni insurgents over Tikrit for days now, amid conflicting reports over who was winning.