Image: Sunni lawmaker Ayad al-Samarraie
Ali Al Saadi  /  AP
Sunni lawmaker Ayad al-Samarraie speaks to the press outside the Iraqi parliament in the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. Iraq's parliament has elected a new speaker after months of political paralysis.
updated 4/19/2009 1:12:10 PM ET 2009-04-19T17:12:10

Iraq's parliament ended months of political paralysis by electing a prominent Sunni lawmaker as its new speaker on Sunday. Meanwhile, attackers fatally shot seven people in an old market area of Baghdad in a new spree of violence in the Iraqi capital.

The selection of Ayad al-Samarraie opens the way for parliament to deal with crucial reforms that have been on hold for nearly four months. Among the issues facing parliament: passing laws to regulate the country's oil and gas riches and addressing possible constitutional changes on central government powers.

But the parliament only has a limited time to work, as Iraqi national elections are planned for later this year, possibly December.

Al-Samarraie, a member of the parliament's finance committee, received 153 votes — far ahead of the runner-up candidate, who had just 36 votes. He will succeed Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who resigned Dec. 23 amid widespread complaints about his erratic behavior.

Emerged as compromise figure
Under Iraq's political system, the speaker post goes to a Sunni Arab. But the main Sunni bloc could not agree on a candidate until al-Samarraie emerged as a compromise figure.

Al-Samarraie, who is a dual Iraqi-British citizen, lived in Britain for decades during Saddam Hussein's rule and was one of the Iraqi exiles in contact with Washington before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

"We will do our best to reform parliament and enable it to play a more active role," he said shortly after being elected.

In the violence in Baghdad, gunmen killed seven jewelry shop owners while robbing three jewelry stores in a busy Shiite shopping district, authorities said.

The Iraqi military said a "criminal gang using weapons equipped with silencers" was behind the morning slayings Sunday in the northern al-Tobji neighborhood. Baghdad security spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi said the gunmen used three cars in the heist.

Such attacks have increased worries of lawlessness as Iraq's security forces move toward taking complete control of security from withdrawing American troops.

The government said a military committee will investigate the incident and track down those involved, and it urged citizens to come forward if they have information.

Robberies and attacks increasing
Officials at Yarmouk Hospital said five other people were wounded in the robberies. The robbers escaped in waiting cars with jewelry and cash, said witnesses, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fears of militant reprisals.

Though violence has declined dramatically in Iraq, the number of robberies and attacks on jewelry stores, currency exchanges and pawn shops appears to be increasing.

A day earlier, gunmen used similar tactics during the robbery of a currency exchange in Basra, south of Baghdad. At least two people were killed.

Elsewhere Sunday, gunmen shooting from speeding cars killed two U.S.-allied Sunni paramilitaries in separate incidents in Musayyib, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) south of Baghdad. The shootings took place as the paramilitaries were heading to a mosque, the Babil provincial police said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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