The Washington Post

Iraqi parliament breaks political deadlock

Salim al-Jubouri was chosen the new speaker by Iraq’s parliment Tuesday in a vote that ended two weeks of political deadlock. (Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Iraq’s parliament on Tuesday broke two weeks of political deadlock to elect a speaker, a crucial first step toward forming a new government that Iraqi leaders hope will pull this divided country out of crisis.

Sunni lawmaker Salim al-
Jubouri received 71 percent of the votes. The session, broadcast live on state television, was attended by 273 of the Iraqi parliament’s 328 members, acting speaker Mahdi Hafidh said.

The election of a new speaker appeared to bring Iraq one step closer to forming a government led by someone other than Nouri al-Maliki, the controversial prime minister.

Widespread opposition to Maliki, a Shiite Arab, among Iraq’s Sunni Arab and Kurdish minorities, as well as some Shiite lawmakers, has been the main reason for the deadlock.

“There is no chance for Maliki,” Jawad al-Jubouri, a spokesman for the Shiite al-Ahrar party, said Tuesday night. “All of the political blocs and the [Shiite] religious authority are telling him to leave.”

But it remains unclear whether Maliki, who has ruled Iraq for eight years and whose State of Law party controls the largest bloc in parliament, will step down.

In practice, Iraq’s government consists of a Sunni speaker of parliament, a Kurdish president and a Shiite prime minister, to balance the country’s ethnic and religious diversity.

The speaker is chosen first. But in the past, political parties have agreed on all three as part of a package deal ahead of a formal vote.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Tuesday urged Iraqi politicians to move quickly to complete the process of forming a new government, saying that “the stakes for Iraq’s future could not be clearer.”

“The election of a Speaker is the first step in the critical process of forming a new government that can take into account the rights, aspirations, and legitimate concerns of all Iraq’s communities,” he said in a statement.

Confidence in Maliki has deteriorated rapidly over the past month, as Sunni militants calling themselves the Islamic State have routed Iraqi forces and captured territory stretching from Syria to within 50 miles of Baghdad in central Iraq.

Nevertheless, Maliki might retain his post, said Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq expert and nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Far from signaling a behind-the-scenes agreement on a new government, Tuesday’s vote showed only that both pro- and anti-Maliki camps see the selection of a speaker as a way to push their agendas forward, Mardini said from Irbil, the capital of the semiautonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.

“Those against Maliki believe that starting the clock will lead to his ousting, and those supporting Maliki believe it will lead to his third term,” Mardini said. “As a result, both sides came out to elect a new speaker.”

Critics have accused Maliki of systematically marginalizing and discriminating against the Sunni and Kurdish minorities, deepening a set of toxic rifts and bringing the country to the verge of a sectarian war reminiscent of the 2006-2007 bloodletting.

Among the Shiite contenders for Maliki’s job is Ahmed Chalabi, who helped bring about the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 by providing false intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s supposed arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

As an administrator tallied the votes in parliament Tuesday, lawmakers, including Chalabi, approached Jubouri to congratulate him on his landslide win.

In recent weeks, Iraq has come dangerously close to breaking apart. The Kurds have seized oil fields and the contested oil-rich city of Kirkuk, while vowing to push for statehood.

The Islamic State, meanwhile, has declared a revival of the medieval Islamic caliphate on territory it has captured in recent weeks.

And Iraqi security forces have all but collapsed under the militant onslaught.

On Tuesday, Iraqi forces launched another offensive to recapture the insurgent stronghold of Tikrit, the home town of Hussein. The Islamic State seized control of the city on June 12. The Shiite-dominated Iraqi army, aided by Shiite militias and volunteer fighters, has since struggled to retake it.

Mohamed al-Tikriti, a local journalist, said security forces began shelling the southern half of the city about 1 a.m. Tuesday and continued into the late hours of the morning.

“Today was the hardest battle we have seen yet,” Tikriti said. Those residents who had not fled were staying indoors, he said.

“There is no electricity. There is no fuel. There are shortages of everything,” he added.

Tikriti and Iraqi officials said security forces also were fighting for control of the city’s main hospital, which lies on strategically high ground.

Government security officials say they suspect that the Islamist State has sleeper cells in Baghdad, but it has yet to launch a major assault on the city.

On Tuesday, two car bombs shook a Shiite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, killing at least three people and wounding 15, said Brig. Gen. Saad Maan, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

Maan said the military also conducted air raids on the militant-held cities of Fallujah and Haditha, west of the capital.

Anne Gearan in Washington and Khalid Ali in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Abigail Hauslohner covers D.C. politics -- and the people affected by D.C. politics. She came to the local beat in 2015 after seven years covering war, politics, and corruption across the Middle East and North Africa. Most recently, she served as the Post’s Cairo Bureau Chief.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Sleep advice you won't find in baby books
In defense of dads
Scenes from Brazil's Carajás Railway
Play Videos
For good coffee, sniff, slurp and spit
How to keep your child safe in the water
How your online data can get hijacked
Play Videos
How to avoid harmful chemicals in school supplies
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
How much can one woman eat?
Play Videos
What you need to know about Legionnaires' disease
How to get organized for back to school
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.