The first session of Iraqi parliament since elections in April dissolved after two hours today, when minority Sunnis and Kurds abandoned proceedings in response to Shiite politicians' inability to name a replacement for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The chances of a national unity government being formed now look slim, despite internal and international pressure and an ever-increasing threat from the hardline Sunni insurgents, which have seized large sections of the country.
The session began with the national anthem and was presided over by the eldest parliamentary member, Mehdi al-Hafidh, in his capacity as acting speaker. Hafidh told lawmakers that the country's predicament must be dealt with.
"The security setback that has beset Iraq must be brought to a stop, and security and stability have to be regained all over Iraq, so that it can head down the path in the right way toward the future," he said, according to Reuters.
However, when a new prime minister wasn't named, Sunnis and Kurds refused to come back to the parliamentary chamber after a recess, the Associated Press said. Parliament is not expected to reconvene until July 8 at the earliest.
The top three posts in Iraqi government have, since the toppling of Saddam Hussein, been divided between the country's three largest demographics, with the prime minister's post going to a Shiite, the parliamentary speaker's to a Sunni, and the presidency to a Kurd.
Maliki is being pressured by many of his opponents to step aside, although he is showing no indications of doing so. The Shiite National Alliance block has thus far not been able to agree on whether it should back him for another term or put forward an alternative candidate.
Senior Sunni politician Osama al-Nujaifi warned today that if Maliki stayed in power, Iraq risked further deterioration in its security situation.
"If there is a new policy with a new prime minister, we will deal with them positively. Otherwise the country will go from bad to worse," he said, adding that his bloc's candidate for speaker would depend on the National Alliance's prime minister pick.
"It is imperative that national leaders work together to foil attempts to destroy the social fabric of Iraqi society."
Support for Maliki from his international allies may now be wavering too. The AP reported last week that Hassan Rouhani, president of Iraq's key Shiite ally Iran, thinks Maliki should stand down to avoid Iraq falling apart. High-ranking Iranian general Ghasem Soleimani recently returned home after meetings with Shiite politicians in Iraq with a list of possible alternative candidates for Maliki's position, the report added, and is expected back in Baghdad soon to inform Iraqi politicians of Iran's favorite prime ministerial candidate.
In the meantime, pressure is growing to form a new government from the US, the United Nations, and internally. Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, had also urged the country's different political blocs to agree on the next prime minister, parliament speaker, and president before today's parliament meeting. In a speech read by his aid at a shrine in Karbala on June 27, Sistanti said: "What is required of the political blocs is to agree on the three presidencies [prime minister, speaker, and president]."
Delay could be dangerous. Hardline Sunni militants led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), have overrun large sections of Iraq — including the cities of Mosul and Tikrit — over the past three weeks, and are still gaining new ground around the capital of Baghdad.
On Sunday, ISIS announced the restoration of an Islamic caliphate in the areas of Iraq and Syria it occupies and called on al Qaeda and other Sunni militant forces in the area to join them in acknowledging “a new era of international jihad."
Meanwhile, a mortar attack near the revered Shiite Imam al-Askari shrine in the city of Samarra injured at least 14 people Monday night, according to official sources cited by Reuters. A 2006 bombing at the same site exacerbated existing Sunni-Shiite tensions and sparked a full-blown sectarian conflict that killed tens of thousands.
Fighting has also continued to rage in and around Tikrit in recent days, as Iraqi government forces tried to dislodge militants from the area. The Iraqi armed forces have been attempting to take back the city since last week, and helicopter gunships reportedly struck militant positions on Saturday and Sunday night.
The violence contributed to making June the bloodiest month in Iraq for years. At least 2,417 Iraqis were killed and 2,287 injured in "acts of terrorism and violence" the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said today. More than 1,500 of the dead and 1,700 of the wounded were civilians.
“The staggering number of civilian casualties in one month points to the urgent need for all to ensure that civilians are protected," said Nickolay Mladenov, the special representative of the secretary-general for Iraq and UNAMI head. "As large parts of the country remain under the control of ISIL [ISIS] and armed groups, it is imperative that national leaders work together to foil attempts to destroy the social fabric of Iraqi society."
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