BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s new parliament ended its inaugural session Tuesday after failing to make any progress in choosing a new prime minister even as the country faces a militant blitz that threatens to rip it apart and a spike in violence that made June the deadliest month in at least two years.
Acting speaker Mahdi al-Hafidh called off the proceedings after most of the 328-member legislature’s Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers did not return after a short break. Their absence deprived parliament of a quorum.
The entire session, from the opening national anthem to al-Hafidh’s final words, lasted less than two hours. The impasse prolongs what has already been days of intense jockeying as political blocs try to decide on the posts of prime minister, president and speaker of parliament.
The country’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, urged lawmakers last week to agree on the three posts before Tuesday’s meeting in hopes of averting months of wrangling that could further destabilize the country. But Tuesday’s session dashed the prospects – always farfetched – of a quick compromise.
Embattled incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – whose bloc won the most seats in April elections – is under intense pressure to step aside. Sunnis and Kurds accuse him of breaking promises, and long-held Sunni grievances are seen as one of the main factors driving resurgent militancy in the country.
The need for a new government that can keep the country together is urgent following the recent offensive spearheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaida breakaway group that has overrun much of northern and western Iraq.
The threat posed to Iraq by the recent militant offensive was underlined by new casualty figures released Tuesday by the United Nations that put June’s death toll at 2,417 – making it the deadliest month so far this year.
The figures issued by the U.N. mission to Iraq include 1,531 civilians and 886 security forces. UNAMI added that 2,287 Iraqis, including 1,763 civilians, were wounded.
The figures exclude deaths in embattled Anbar province, which is largely controlled by Sunni militants.
The second deadliest month this year was May, with 799 Iraqis killed, including 603 civilians. April’s death toll was 750.
The latest casualty figures exceed even last year’s peak. The U.N. reported that last July at least 1,057 Iraqis were killed and another 2,326 were wounded.
“The staggering number of civilian casualties in one month points to the urgent need for all to ensure that civilians are protected,” the U.N. Special Representative in Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said in the statement.
Mladenov called on Iraqi political rivals to “work together to foil attempts to destroy the social fabric of Iraqi society.”
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