BAGHDAD, (AP) – The Iraqi parliament faced a new crisis Sunday after members of the country’s major Sunni Arab bloc fell out with one another over the nomination of a candidate for speaker.
The dispute is over a replacement for former parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni who resigned last month amid controversy over his behavior.
Under Iraq’s sectarian-based political system, al-Mashhadani’s replacement must be a Sunni. But the main Sunni bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, has been unable to agree on a candidate.
Taha al-Luhaibi said Sunday that his Independent Democratic Gathering — which has four seats in parliament — has withdrawn from the umbrella bloc, accusing the dominant Iraqi Islamic Party of trying to force through a candidate.
Another faction in the bloc, the National Dialogue Council, has also withdrawn from the Front to protest the Islamic Party’s role.
“We managed to form a consensus with Sunni Arabs in parliament … to present a number of candidates from each group for the position,” Council leader Khalaf al-Ilyan said. “The Iraqi Islamic Party has secret deals with the Kurds and main Shiite parties to shape a new leadership to the parliament to implement their goals.”
Officials with the Iraqi Islamic Party couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
The defections have reduced the number of parliamentary seats held by the Iraqi Accordance Front from 44 to fewer than 30 and threatens Sunni influence at a critical time ahead of Jan. 31 provincial elections.
While the vote is not for the national assembly, the political parties also are campaigning for positions on the provincial councils. Divisions within the Sunni parties could cost the minority community some seats in provinces with large Shiite and Kurdish communities.
The 275-member parliament was scheduled to reconvene Sunday after a holiday recess.
Al-Mashhadani’s resignation came under heavy pressure from Shiite and Kurdish lawmakers after he tried to delay a vote on a security agreement to allow foreign troops, including British forces, to stay in Iraq past the end of last year, when a U.N. mandate expired. His resignation broke the impasse, and the agreement was eventually passed.