Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—It was one step forward and two steps back for Iraq on Thursday as parliament successfully elected a new president, but appeared no closer to choosing a prime minister or forming a new government.
Lawmakers elected veteran Kurdish politician Fuad Masoum as Iraq’s new president, replacing Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani.
Masoum, 76, a founding member of the PUK, secured the presidency—a position traditionally held by a Kurd—with 175 out of a total 225 votes after Iraq’s main Kurdish parties agreed on a single nominee.
The election of a new president, largely a ceremonial position, comes just one week after Iraqi lawmakers successfully elected a new speaker of parliament, Salim Al-Jabouri.
Jabouri, a moderate Sunni Islamist politician, replaced Mutahidoun bloc leader Osama Al-Nujaifi, also a Sunni.
Under an unofficial political agreement that has emerged since the 2003 toppling of late dictator Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi presidency is reserved for a member of the country’s Kurdish minority, the post of speaker of parliament for a Sunni, and the premiership for a Shi’ite.
Despite filling two key positions in recent weeks, Iraqi politicians appeared no closer to naming a new prime minister or government on Thursday, after Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court denied claims by current Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition that it had been formally tasked with forming a new government.
Federal Supreme Court spokesman Abdul Sattar Al-Biraqdar told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The Federal Supreme Court has not issued any decision in this regard. The State of Law coalition’s claims are not true.”
“The Supreme Court has not met for two weeks and if the Court was going to issue any decision, it would be via an official spokesperson. These claims are part of conflicts between politicians, and have nothing to do with the Supreme Court,” he added.
Earlier this week, State of Law coalition MP Hussein Al-Maliki issued a statement claiming that the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court had formally tasked Prime Minister Maliki with forming a new government.
However, new Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Jabouri, speaking at a press conference following Masoum’s election, called on the new president to “use his constitutional powers to choose a candidate [for prime minister] from the largest political bloc.”
While the State of Law coalition won the most number of seats in Iraq’s last parliamentary election in April, Maliki was unable to secure an overall majority, and post-election politicking and the formation of new alliances among Maliki’s rivals mean the political landscape remains confused.
Maliki is facing criticism from within the wider Shi’ite coalition his bloc belongs to, the National Alliance, with many calling for his bloc to name a different candidate for prime minister, in defiance of his attempts to secure a third term in office.
Sadrist MP Jawad Al-Jabouri told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The State of Law coalition’s insistence on nominating Maliki . . . could get them in trouble amid rejection both from within the Alliance and outside.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Baghdad on Thursday and called on Iraqi lawmakers to “find a common ground” to form a new government, warning that Iraq is facing an “existential threat” that can only be overcome through an “inclusive government.”
However, Maliki, speaking during a press conference alongside Ban, played down the political deadlock over the post of prime minister. “Despite the fact that we have problems . . . we are moving at a confident pace to implement the mechanisms of democracy,” he said.