Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Prominent Iraqi Sunni figure and Mutahidoun coalition leader Osama Al-Nujaifi has said that he will not seek another term as speaker of parliament if Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki abandons his attempts to secure a controversial third term in office.
Iraq’s new parliament has so far failed to reach an agreement over a president, prime minister and speaker.
“I announce the withdrawal of my candidacy as speaker of parliament, and I wish every success in serving the people of Iraq to whoever assumes this post,” a statement issued by Nujaifi’s office said.
“We have worked with Shi’ite parties of the Iraqi National Alliance, of which Maliki’s State of Law Coalition is a member, in order to change the prime minister as a start to changing the policies that have led to one crisis after another, until Iraq is now under threat of disintegration,” the statement added.
Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds have explicitly rejected a third term for Maliki, while even Shi’ite allies in the Iraqi National Alliance have criticized the prime minister’s handling of the security file. Maliki also held the defense and interior ministry portfolios during the last four years of his premiership.
“When Maliki realized that nominating a new prime minister has become inevitable, he insisted on linking abandoning his attempt for a third term in office to my agreement not to nominate myself for the speakership,” Nujaifi’s statement added.
Following Nujaifi’s withdrawal, senior Sunni figures Saleem Al-Jabouri and Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani are rumored to be the leading candidates to take up the post. Jabouri is leader of the ‘Diyala is our Identity’ party, and Mashhadani is a senior figure in Iyad Allawi’s Wataniya bloc. It is not yet known whether Mutahidoun will seek to put forward an alternative candidate for speaker.
Nujaifi’s decision comes as Iraq approaches a constitutional deadline to appoint a new government while Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters continue to advance in western and central parts of the country.
In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Iraqi legal expert Tariq Harb said: “There are constitutional deadlines to fill the posts of president, prime minister and speaker of parliament that must not be breached. According to the Iraqi constitution, this deadline will come on September 14, 2014.”
There has been uncertainty over the deadline for the formation of Iraq’s new government. Article 54 of Iraq’s constitution explicitly states that “The President of the Republic shall call upon the Council of Representatives to convene by a presidential decree within fifteen days from the date of the ratification of the general election results. Its eldest member shall chair the first session to elect the speaker of the Council and his two deputies. This period may not be extended by more than the aforementioned period.”
Iraq’s Supreme Court ratified the election results on June 16, with parliament meeting on July 1, within the constitutional time-frame. However Iraqi lawmakers failed to elect a Speaker during the first meeting of parliament. Article 55 of Iraq’s constitution states that “The Council of Representatives shall elect in its first session its speaker, then his first deputy and second deputy, by an absolute majority of the total number of the Council members by direct secret ballot.”
Commenting on parliament’s failure to elect a speaker, Harb told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Ending the first session without electing a speaker cannot be considered constitutional,” adding that “all parties are currently breaching the constitution.”
Iraq’s parliament is set to meet again next week, amid hopes that Iraqi lawmakers will be able to reach a deal on forming a new government.