Iraq’s leadership was under increased pressure on Wednesday to form a new government to deal with a Sunni militant onslaught that has threatened to tear the country apart, after parliament’s first session ended in disarray.
Following a break called to calm soaring tempers, so many Sunni and Kurdish deputies stayed away from the session on Tuesday that the quorum was lost and a speaker could not be elected.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s bid for a third term has been battered by the jihadist-led offensive that has seized large chunks of five provinces, adding fuel to dissatisfaction over persistent allegations of sectarianism and monopolising power.
The crisis has alarmed world leaders, displaced hundreds of thousands of people and polarised Iraq’s Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish populations.
That disunity quickly manifested itself in what was the opening session of a parliament elected in April.
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Kurdish lawmaker Najiba Najib interrupted efforts to select a new speaker, calling on the government to “end the blockade” and send withheld budget funds to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
Kadhim al-Sayadi, an MP in Shiite premier Maliki’s bloc, responded by threatening to “crush the heads” of the country’s autonomous Kurds, whose regional leader Massud Barzani told the BBC they would hold a referendum on independence within months.
Some Sunni MPs walked out at the mention of the Islamic State (IS), the jihadist group leading the anti-government offensive, and enough Sunnis and Kurds did not return following the break that the session was without a quorum.
Presiding MP Mahdi Hafez said the legislature would reconvene on July 8 if leaders were able to agree on senior posts.
However, the riotous atmosphere did not stop new MPs from queueing to register for their substantial pay and benefits, including weapons and guards, perks that anger ordinary Iraqis struggling with a flagging economy.
Under a de facto agreement, the prime minister is chosen from among Shiite Arabs, the speaker from Sunni Arabs and the president from Kurds. The three are typically chosen in tandem.