BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraq was thrown into deep political crisis after leaders cancelled a much-awaited parliament session following their failure to resolve a bitter dispute over the prime minister.
Four months after the landmark elections for the first permanent post-Saddam Hussein government, Iraqi leaders continued to squabble over who would lead the next cabinet and also hold key posts in the parliament.
Iraqi Sunni and Kurdish groups have rejected the choice for prime minister of the country’s powerful Shiite majority, outgoing premier Ibrahim Jaafari, while in a tit-for-tat political move the Shiites are opposing Sunni candidates for other posts.
The Sunni and Kurdish minorities accuse Jaafari of failing to curb the raging sectarian violence that has left hundreds dead since the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra on February 22.
In turn, the Shiite parties suspect the country’s Sunni parties of having one foot in the political establishment and the other in the camp of Iraq’s three-year insurgency that has targeted Shiites with bombings and shootings.
“The political crisis has deepened,” Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman told AFP.
“The issues are not resolved. There is no agreement on Jaafari yet and the other problem is that the Shiite list has opposed the Sunni candidate for the post of parliament speaker.”
The Sunni-led National Concord Front, which has 44 seats in parliament, had proposed the name of Tareq al-Hashemi, the head of the popular Iraqi Islamic Party, to be the next parliament speaker.
Political factions had been expected to reach consensus on Sunday ahead of Monday’s parliament session, but their quarreling led to the cancellation of the meeting. The 275-member parliament has met only once since Iraq’s December 15 election.
“We decided to postpone for a few days the holding of the parliament,” said MP Bassem Sharif, a member of the parliament’s biggest bloc, the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, which has 128 seats.
The decision was taken “to give time to all the parliamentary blocs to finalise their candidates and reach an agreement on all the parliamentary posts,” he added.
Baghdad’s new ambassador to Washington, Samir Sumaidaie, told CNN Sunday that a replacement to Jaafari was likely to be decided upon in the coming days.
“A number of names have been mentioned. But leading amongst them is Ali al-Adib, who is from Jaafari’s own party,” Sumaidaie said, adding that he “would stand for the same things that Jaafari stands for.”
The deadlock has coincided with a surge in violence that has raised fears the country is on the edge of an all out civil war, with its political leaders, bound by religious and ethnic loyalties, utterly incapable of forging ahead.
Sunnis believe the Shiite-led government has stocked the interior ministry with death squads that are killing members of their minority community, which enjoyed benefits under the rule of deposed president Saddam Hussein.
On Monday, Saddam’s trial in Baghdad on charges of crimes against humanity resumed after a five-day break, but was quickly adjourned until April 19.
The prosecution was granted more time to prove the authenticity of the deposed Iraqi leader’s signature on execution orders for Shiites from the village of Dujail who were killed after an assassination attempt on Saddam’s life in 1982.
In violence, insurgents staged fresh attacks killing two people early Monday.
A civilian was killed in central Baghdad when a roadside bomb struck a passing Iraqi army patrol, while another Iraqi was killed in overnight clashes between insurgents and soldiers.
It was immediately unclear whether the dead man was a civilian or an insurgent.
On Sunday, at least 31 people were killed in a string of attacks in Iraq, including bombings and shootings against a market and two minibuses.
Fifteen Iraqis were kidnapped from two businesses in Baghdad by armed men, some of them dressed in police uniforms, and were driven away in police cars, security sources said.