Sunnis and Kurds abandoned the first meeting of Iraq’s new parliament on Tuesday after Shias failed to name a prime minister to replace Nuri al-Maliki, wrecking hopes that a unity government would be swiftly built to save Iraq from collapse.
The United States, United Nations, Iran and Iraq’s own Shia clergy have pushed hard for politicians to come up with an inclusive government to save the country as Sunni insurgents bear down on Baghdad.
But with Shias failing to name a prime minister, Sunnis and Kurds refused to return from recess at the parliamentary chamber in the fortified “green zone” where they were meeting for the first time since an election in April.
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Parliament is not likely to meet again for at least a week, leaving the country in a state of political limbo and Maliki clinging to power as a caretaker, rejected by Sunnis and Kurds.
Under Iraq’s governing system put in place after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the prime minister has always been a member of the Shia majority, the speaker of parliament a Sunni and the largely ceremonial president a Kurd.
The Shia bloc known as the National Alliance, in which Maliki’s State of Law coalition is the biggest group, has met repeatedly in recent days to bargain over the premiership but has so far failed either to endorse Maliki for a third term or to name an alternative.
Fewer than a third of lawmakers returned from the recess. Sunni parties said they would not put forward their candidate for speaker until the Shia pick a premier. The Kurds have also yet to nominate a president.
Baghdad can ill-afford further delays. Iraqi troops have been battling for three weeks against fighters led by the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
This week it shortened its name to the Islamic State and declared its leader “caliph” — historic title of successors of the Prophet Mohammad whole ruled the whole Muslim world.
Fighting has raged in recent days in former dictator Saddam Hussein’s home city, Tikrit, north of Baghdad. ISIL also controls suburbs just west of the capital and fighting has broken out to the south, leaving the city of 7 million confronting threats from three sides.
The United Nations said on Tuesday more than 2,400 Iraqis had been killed in June alone, making the month by far the deadliest since the height of sectarian warfare during the U.S. “surge” offensive in 2007.
In a reminder of that conflict, mortars fell near a Shia holy shrine in Samarra which was bombed in 2006, unleashing the sectarian bloodshed that killed tens of thousands over the next two years. Samarra, north of Baghdad, is now held by Baghdad’s troops with ISIL in the surrounding countryside.