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Iraq’s PM welcomes electing new parliament Speaker

July 16, 2014

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s embattled prime minister welcomed on Wednesday the election of a parliament speaker — the first step in forming a new government amid an increasing threat from militants who have taken over a large swath of northern and western Iraq.

During his weekly televised speech, Nouri al-Maliki also called on the new legislative body to put aside political rivalries and to work together to pass pending laws and to coordinate with the executive body.

But al-Maliki, who has ruled Iraq since 2006 and is now under intense pressure to step aside, did not indicate whether he would withdraw his nomination.

“I hope that they will work in harmony and to agree on running the parliament... away from all differences and calculations,” al-Maliki said. “But this must not affect the work of the parliament which represents the people’s will,” he added.

On Tuesday, lawmakers broke the deadlock by choosing a Sunni Speaker for parliament as well as two new deputies — a Shiite and a Kurd. But, political rivals have yet to agree on the most contentious post of prime minister or on a new president.

Under an informal agreement that took hold after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the speaker’s chair goes to a Sunni, the presidency to a Kurd and the prime minister’s post to a Shiite. Iraqis are under pressure to form a new government that can confront the advances of Sunni militant groups.

Al-Maliki’s coalition, State of Law, emerged a clear winner following national elections in April, securing 92 seats out of 328. But his former Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni allies deny him a third term because of what they see as his monopoly on decision-making, his perceived sectarian policies toward the Sunnis and Kurds, and the military setbacks of the past two weeks.

The militant blitz began last month when the insurgents led by the Islamic State extremist group captured Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul. Advancing rapidly from there, the Sunni militants managed to overrun much of northern and western Iraq, but their offensive eventually slowed upon reaching predominantly Shiite areas.

But those gains were built, in a sense, on the militants’ push into two cities early this year in the overwhelmingly Sunni province of Anbar, west of Baghdad. The government eventually reasserted control over Ramadi, but Fallujah remains in insurgent hands.

Since the beginning of the year, the fighting in Iraq has driven more than 1 million people from their homes, the head of the U.N. refugee agency said Wednesday.

Antonio Guterres told reporters in Baghdad that it “is absolutely crucial” for Iraq’s political leaders to overcome their divisions “and create a political power that all Iraqis can feel represents them because there is no way the suffering of the Iraqi people can be addressed by humanitarian actors if there is no political solution.”

He expressed particular concern for Iraq’s small minority communities — Yazidis, Turkmens, Shabaks, — caught up in the conflict, and urged Iraqi authorities to apply a policy of non-discrimination on those fleeing their homes to other areas deemed safe.

“For us it doesn’t matter if one is Kurd or Arab, if one is Christian or Muslim or Yazidi — we believe that all have the right to be protected, all have the right to be assisted, all need to be welcomed when they have to flee,” he said.

On a global scale, Guterres warned that the confluence of new crises — and the inability to solve old ones — has overwhelmed the humanitarian community worldwide, crippling its ability to respond on an adequate level.

“We feel that the humanitarian community is overstretched and is on the brink of not being able to deliver in relation to the needs of people, both those who are displaced by conflict and those who are trapped and suffer the impact of conflict,” he said. “There is no longer capacity to clean up the mess.”

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Associated Press writer Ryan Lucas contributed to this report.

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