Iraq’s Parliament Fails to Agree on Premier as Insurgency Rages

Jul 01, 2014 5:00 pm ET

(See EXTRA for more on the turmoil in Iraq.)

July 2 (Bloomberg) -- Iraqi lawmakers yesterday failed to end an impasse over picking a prime minister and filling key posts, as political rifts hindered efforts to curb an Islamist insurgency that has sparked concerns of a return to civil war.

Just over an hour after convening in Baghdad, parliament adjourned until July 8, citing a lack of quorum and disagreements among leading political blocs. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, had urged the quick appointment of a leader able to “avoid sectarianism” and prevent the country’s breakup.

Pressure on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step aside has intensified amid criticism by domestic opponents and world leaders that his Shiite-led government has marginalized minority Sunnis, some of whom have swung behind the militants.

Easing the deadlock “starts with the Shiite alliance coming with an alternative to Maliki and then we can see who is really for a united Iraq, and who is not,” Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center in Qatar, said in a phone interview. The “solution includes the emergence of a new prime minister,” he said.

The National Alliance, which groups the main Shiite parties including that led by the premier, hasn’t decided on a candidate for the top office, Ali al-Allaq, a lawmaker from Maliki’s party, said by phone June 30.

The National Bloc of former leader Ayad Allawi said in a statement that it would boycott parliament as politicians were “still repeating the same mistakes.”

Ramadan End

Iraq’s Kurds, who strengthened their hold on an expanded largely autonomous Kurdish region following the militants’ advance, and Shiite followers of another cleric, Moqtada al- Sadr, have publicly called on Maliki to go.

Politicians signaled differences won’t be easily overcome.

“In the coming days, before end of Ramadan, I can assure you, we will have a name” for premier, Ali al-Aldeed, minister of higher education, and a senior member of Maliki’s State of Law bloc, said by phone. The holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast between dawn and dusk, began this week.

The National Alliance, which controls 185 of the 328 seats in parliament, is holding daily meetings at the office of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a former premier who heads the grouping, to reach an agreement among its members, al-Aldeed said.

Washington Envoy

The risk of sectarian civil war in Iraq, OPEC’s second- biggest oil producer, flared last month after an al-Qaeda breakaway group, now known as the Islamic State, seized Mosul, the country’s biggest northern city, and advanced on other towns.

In Washington, President Barack Obama June 30 ordered another 200 combat-equipped military personnel to Iraq indefinitely for security at the U.S. embassy, its support facilities and Baghdad International Airport.

Iraq has appealed for the U.S. to carry out airstrikes on militants to held counter the offensive. The nation’s ambassador in Washington, Lukman Faily, yesterday criticized the Obama administration for delaying a decision on strikes and what he called the slow delivery of F-16 fighter jets.

“Targeted airstrikes are crucial to defeat this threat,” Faily said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “Time is not on our side. Further delay only benefits the terrorists.”

Faily said that Iraq last month bought Russian Sukhoi war planes because of delays in supplying requested F-16s.

“The process of delivery of these jets does not meet the immediate threat we face,” he said. The first Sukhois were delivered last week after Russia said it wouldn’t stand by while Iraq collapses.

Samarra Attack

As the politicians in Baghdad quarreled, fighting continued. At least eight people were killed and 15 wounded in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra late on June 30 when four mortar rounds fell near the al-Askari Mosque. In 2006, an attack damaged the Shiite site, sparking nationwide sectarian violence.

About 2,400 Iraqi civilians and soldiers were killed last month, 886 of whom were members of the Iraqi security forces, United Nations human rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters yesterday in Geneva, citing figures released by the UN mission in Iraq. At least 1,531 of those killed in June were civilians, making the toll the highest for a single month since 2007, Shamdasani said.

The al-Qaeda offshoot announced on June 29 that it was declaring a caliphate and had changed its name to the Islamic State -- from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL -- in a bid to assert its authority over territory it has taken.

Assad Fight

The group, which is also fighting to topple Bashar al-Assad in neighboring Syria, defined its Islamic state as stretching from Aleppo in northern Syria to the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala, according to an audio recording purportedly by its spokesman posted on websites and forums linked to radical Islamists. It named its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as head of the caliphate.

Al-Baghdadi yesterday called on Muslims, especially scholars, judges, doctors and engineers, to travel to territory under his group’s control to help build an Islamic state, the Associated Press reported, citing a 19-minute audiotape released on the Internet. “Muslims, rush to your state. Yes, it is your state,” the AP quoted him as saying.

The UN has received reports of Islamic State gunmen “going door to door in Mosul trying to forcibly recruit young men to fight against” the Iraqi military, Shamdasani said, condemning the killings and targeting of civilians.

Advocacy group Human Rights Watch says it has gathered evidence of war atrocities committed by the group, in which hundreds of Iraqis died.

--With assistance from Nicole Gaouette, Zaid Sabah, Angela Greiling Keane and David Lerman in Washington, Khalid Al-Ansary in Erbil, Leon Mangasarian in Berlin, Glen Carey in Riyadh and Sangwon Yoon in United Nations.