BAGHDAD,(Reuters) – A sectarian scuffle in the lobby of Iraq’s parliament — over a religious mobile phone ringtone — prompted an angry walkout by some legislators on Wednesday.
Meeting for only the second full day of normal business after five months of sectarian stalemate over a new government, parliament was briefly adjourned after the Sunni speaker refused to let a Shi’ite woman member lodge a complaint about the melee.
Gufran al-Saidi, from the Islamist movement of fiery Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, stormed out and told reporters that a bodyguard for speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani had attacked one of her aides on Monday because her phone played a Shi’ite chant.
Other members joined the walkout and complained that the speaker had acted improperly by switching off Saidi’s microphone and ordering television cameras to be switched off.
Saidi, appearing veiled in a traditional black robe, said her aide was holding her phone for her in the lobby when it rang — with a Shi’ite religious harmony. A bodyguard for speaker Mashhadani came over and told him to switch it off, she said. He did. But when the phone rang again, several parliamentary guards attacked Saidi’s assistant and there was a general scuffle, she said, in which she too became involved.
“I demand an urgent investigation,” she said.
Parliament resumed after about 20 minutes and Mashhadani, chairing the session, was not available for comment. He was appointed last month as part of deal that shared out top jobs among Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds.
The dominant Shi’ite Islamists have already complained that the speaker, a former military officer and physician, is too sectarian in his approach and needs to be more diplomatic.
Shi’ite Prime Minister-designate says he hopes to appoint a full cabinet this week to end months of political stalemate that have left Iraq on the brink of an all-out sectarian civil war.