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November 14, 2019
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Iraq parliament session ends in chaos as turmoil deepens

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s new parliament broke up in chaos Tuesday, with lawmakers walking out and making threats despite global calls for the formation of a government needed to face a Sunni militant onslaught.

After a break called to calm soaring tempers, so many Sunni and Kurdish deputies stayed away that the quorum was lost, so a speaker could not be elected as was constitutionally required, and the session ended in disarray.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s bid for a third term has been battered by the jihadist-led offensive that has seized large chunks of five provinces, adding fuel to dissatisfaction over persistent allegations of sectarianism and monopolising power.

The crisis has alarmed world leaders, displaced hundreds of thousands of people and polarised Iraq’s Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish populations.

The disunity quickly manifested itself in what was the opening session of a parliament elected in April, which included walkouts, threats and confusion over the constitution.

Kurdish lawmaker Najiba Najib initially interrupted efforts to select a new speaker, calling on the federal government to “end the blockade” and send withheld budget funds to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.

– ‘Crush heads of Kurds’ –

Kadhim al-Sayadi, a lawmaker in Shiite premier Maliki’s bloc, responded by threatening to “crush the heads” of the country’s autonomous Kurds, who look increasingly likely to push for independence.

That was reinforced when their leader, Massud Barzani, told the BBC they would hold a referendum within months on independence.

Some Sunni MPs walked out of the chamber when mention was made of the Islamic State (IS), the jihadist group leading the anti-government offensive, and enough Sunnis and Kurds did not return following a break that Tuesday’s session was without a quorum.

Presiding MP Mahdi Hafez said the legislature would reconvene on July 8 if leaders were able to agree on senior posts.

Under a de facto agreement, the prime minister is chosen from among Shiite Arabs, the speaker from Sunni Arabs and the president is a Kurd. All three posts are typically chosen in tandem.

UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov slammed the parliament, saying “politicians in Iraq need to realise that it is no longer business as usual.”

He called for a speaker to be elected next week, and said “any delay or failure to observe the deadlines set by the constitution will be detrimental to the country’s integrity.”