Iraqi lawmakers have elected a Sunni Arab as speaker of parliament, the first step in forming a new government four months after national elections.
Lawmaker Ahmed al-Asadi says 169 lawmakers voted for Mohammed al-Halbousi during Saturday’s session and 89 voted for former defense minister Khalid al-Obeidi.
Al-Halbousi is the former governor of Anbar province and was supported by the pro-Iran bloc inside parliament.
Early this month, parliament held its first session but failed to proceed with the process of forming a government with two Shiite-led blocs claiming to be the biggest bloc that will be tasked to form the government.
Under an unofficial agreement dating back to 2003, the prime minister position is reserved for Shiites, the president a Kurd, and the parliament speaker a Sunni.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has said he will not “cling to power,” after the country’s highest Shiite religious authority called for the appointment of a new head of government. A member of the leader’s parliamentary bloc, however, said Friday that if al-Abadi gets a majority in the legislature he will form the new Cabinet.
A member of al-Abadi’s al-Nasr List, or Victory List, said Friday that the outgoing prime minister is still negotiating to form the largest bloc in parliament and if he succeeds then al-Abadi will be nominated for forming the new Cabinet. The legislator spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.
Al-Abadi’s political position has weakened in the wake of rioting in Iraq’s oil capital, Basra, over corruption, failed services, and contaminated drinking water.
Al-Abadi, who was backed by the US for a second term in office, said he would respect the directives of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who said it was time for Iraq to appoint a prime minister it has never had before. Al-Abadi made his remarks at his weekly press conference on Thursday.
Political analyst Ihsan al-Ashaari said al-Abadi’s statement does not mean that the outgoing prime minister is no longer trying to hang on to the post. He said this decision will be made by the largest blocs in the legislature.
“The negotiations are still ongoing,” al-Ashaari said.