Iraqi government talks fail again as fighting rages
Iraq's parliament failed today to break a damaging political deadlock which is holding up the formation of new government to tackle an Islamist-led insurgency raging less than 80 km from Baghdad.
After a brief session, parliamentary officials delayed until Tuesday their efforts to reach agreement between the country's Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish politicians on the posts of prime minister, president and parliamentary speaker.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose State of Law coalition is the largest individual list in parliament, is seeking a third term but faces opposition from Sunnis and Kurds who say he has ruled for the Shi'ite majority at the expense of minority communities. Even rival Shi'ite parties wish to unseat Maliki.
The political impasse has been given added urgency by the Islamist-led insurgency which swept through Sunni provinces of northern Iraq last month and was only stemmed within a hundred miles from the capital. The fall of northern Sunni cities has encouraged Maliki's opponents to try to force his departure.
The disagreement over Maliki's future appeared to be blocking progress on the other political posts.
Sunni politicians said the main Sunni bloc put forward Salim al-Jabouri, a moderate Islamist, as their candidate for parliamentary speaker, but accused Maliki of effectively torpedoing their proposal.
"We have presented our candidate for speaker and done what we should do," said outgoing speaker Osama Nujaifi. "We hold the other blocs responsible for the delay."
"Once we manage to complete the democratic process to form the government this would help to stop the great destruction happening in Iraq which is jeopardising the country's unity."
Iraq's political elite are under pressure from the United States, the United Nations and Iraq's own Shi'ite clerics to reach agreement so politicians can deal with the insurgency and prevent the country fragmenting on sectarian and ethnic lines.
The UN special envoy to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said the country could plunge into chaos if parliament fails to move forward on a government in Sunday's session. Violent deaths last month reached more than 2,400 -- a level comparable to the worst of the bloodshed seen during Iraq's 2005-2008 sectarian war.
US Vice President Joe Biden talked on Saturday with Masoud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, and discussed the need for the quick formation of a government and peaceful resolution of territorial disputes, the White House said.
With politics in Baghdad paralysed, and Maliki continuing in a caretaker role, the fighting has raged on.
Sunni Islamist insurgents who control large parts of northern Iraq attacked a town north of Baghdad early on Sunday, seizing local government buildings, police and witnesses said.
They said militants in 50 to 60 vehicles stormed the town of Dhuluiya, about 70 km north of Baghdad, taking the mayor's office and municipal council building and fighting to take control of the police station.
Insurgents led by the al Qaeda offshoot Islamic State seized swathes of Iraq's northern provinces in a two-day offensive last month and have also consolidated their grip in western Iraq where they have been fighting since the start of the year.