BAGHDAD, April 3 -- A U.S.-educated Sunni Muslim was selected as speaker of the new Iraqi parliament on Sunday, an important first step in the formation of a national unity government that follows two months of difficult negotiations.
Meanwhile, U.S. military officials raised the number of American troops wounded in a large insurgent assault on the Abu Ghraib prison Saturday from 18 to 44. Thirteen detainees were also injured. There was no confirmed claim of responsibility for the attack, which the military said was mounted by at least 40 men with car bombs, rockets and guns.
Votes for parliament speaker were ticked off on a whiteboard during a session of the Iraqi National Assembly. Discussion over the speakership went far smoother than last week, when talks dissolved into a shouting match.
(Pool Photo Karim Sahib Via Reuters)
The selection of Hachim Hasani as speaker was a result of compromises by all sides in the new assembly. Shiite and Sunni Muslims both withdrew rival candidates, and Hasani gave up his hopes of a top cabinet job to end an impasse over the position.
"The Iraqi people have been able to survive many attempts by their enemies to divide the people," Hasani told the assembly, adding that it was time for a "free, democratic, federated and pluralistic" future for Iraq.
"The reason it took time to reach this first stage is because there's a difference between dictatorship and democracy," Ibrahim Jafari, a Shiite who is expected to be named prime minister, the new government's most important post, told reporters afterward.
"Dictatorship takes a short time," Jafari said. "Democracy takes a longer time, because people need to negotiate with each other to get the best results."
"How long?" demanded a hand-lettered message on a sign held by a lone protester who had managed to get through a mile-wide security cordon outside the site where the assembly was meeting.
With a speaker named, lawmakers say they hope to pick the country's other leaders and a cabinet within days. The haggling over posts has left politicians hurrying to meet a mid-August deadline for drafting a new constitution. A referendum on the new constitution and a vote for a new government are supposed to follow.
While Jafari is expected to be chosen prime minister and Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, is expected to be selected as the president, questions remain on who will fill other important positions -- including a vice presidency expected to go to a Sunni. Control of ministries overseeing the billion-dollar oil industry and the security forces are among jobs that lawmakers say are still being contested.
Some Kurdish politicians and others hope to bring a smaller, secular party into their coalition to help balance a feared religious tilt by Shiite lawmakers, who won the most seats in parliament.
The secular bloc, with 40 seats, is holding out for some of the top posts.
Lawmakers say they are determined to include Sunnis in the government in an effort to defuse the two-year-old Sunni-led insurgency. Sunni clerics had issued a widely heeded call to boycott the Jan. 30 elections.
Earlier attempts to select a speaker did not go smoothly, even though there was agreement that a Sunni would get the job. Last week, an assembly session dissolved into a shouting match over the office. Video footage of the session was cut and lawmakers ejected journalists.
On Sunday, a Kurd, a Sunni and a Shiite counted paper ballots aloud and aides scrawled tallies on a whiteboard, ticking off votes that gave Hasani the speakership and a Shiite and a Kurd the deputy speakerships.