(Reuters) – Iraqi politicians named a moderate Sunni Islamist as speaker of parliament on Tuesday, a long-delayed first step towards a power-sharing government urgently needed to save the state from disintegration in the face of a Sunni uprising.
But after quickly picking Salim al-Jabouri as speaker, lawmakers argued bitterly for hours over his Shi’ite deputy, suggesting they are still far from a deal on a new government or a decision on the fate of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Iraq’s army and allied Shi’ite militia launched an assault to retake the executed former dictator Saddam Hussein’s home city Tikrit from the al Qaeda offshoot known as the Islamic State and allied militants, who seized it in mid-June during a lightning assault through the north.
The stunning advance by the militants over the past month has put Iraq’s very survival in jeopardy even as its politicians have been deadlocked over forming a new government since an election in April.
Maliki, whose State of Law coalition won the most seats but would need allies to form a government, has ruled since the election as a caretaker, defying demands from Sunnis and Kurds that he step aside for a less-polarising figure.
Washington has made clear that setting up a more inclusive government in Baghdad is a requirement for its military support against the insurgency.
Under Iraq’s governing system in place since the post-Saddam Hussein constitution was adopted in 2005, the prime minister is a member of the Shi’ite majority, the speaker a Sunni and the largely ceremonial president a Kurd. Each of the three is meant to have two deputies, drawn from the other two groups.
Picking the Sunni speaker is parliament’s first task, but Sunni leaders had previously refused to nominate one until a deal was reached on a prime minister. Parliament now has 30 days to elect a president, who will then have 15 days to nominate a prime minister.
Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Maliki’s predecessor as premier and now head of the National Alliance, a Shi’ite umbrella group that includes Maliki’s State of Law bloc and rivals, hinted that a wider deal had been reached: the alliance would vote for Jabouri and expected support from Sunni politicians in return.