Three months after elections, Iraq’s new parliament was sworn in Thursday with parties still deadlocked over the next government, vehicles banned from Baghdad’s streets to prevent car bombings and the country under the shadow of a feared civil war.
But the long-awaited first session had hardly begun when it was indefinitely adjourned for lack of agreement on a permanent speaker for the legislature.
The whole business lasted slightly more than 30 minutes, just long enough for the members to pledge to “preserve the independence and the sovereignty of Iraq and to take care of the interests of its people.”
The head of the committee that drafted the country’s new constitution, Humam Hammoudi, then stood up and protested two words had been changed in the oath. After brief consultations, judicial officials agreed the wording was acceptable and the session adjourned until further notice.
Adnan Pachachi, the senior politician who administered the oath, spoke of a country in crisis.
“We have to prove to the world that a civil war is not and will not take place among our people,” Pachachi told lawmakers. “The danger is still looming and the enemies are ready for us because they do not like to see a united, strong, stable Iraq.”
As Pachachi spoke, he was interrupted from the floor by senior Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who said the remarks were inappropriate, to which he responded, “These are the duties of the Council” of Deputies — parliament’s official name.
Afterward acting Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari told reporters that “if politicians work seriously, we can have a government within a month.”
Political logjam over al-Jaafari
Al-Jaafari’s candidacy for a second term as prime minister is at the center of the political logjam that delayed parliament’s first session for over a month after the results of Dec. 15 elections were approved.
Under the constitution, the largest parliamentary bloc, controlled by Shiites, has the right to nominate the prime minister. Al-Jaafari won the Shiite nomination by a single vote last month.
Politicians involved in the negotiations have said part of the Shiite bloc, those aligned with al-Hakim, would like to see al-Jaafari ousted but fear the consequences, given his backing from radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and al-Sadr’s powerful Mahdi Army.
Sunni, Kurdish and some secular Shiites argue al-Jaafari is too divisive and accuse him of not doing enough to contain waves of revenge killing after bombers destroyed an important Shiite shrine on Feb. 22 and ripped apart teeming markets in an al-Sadr stronghold in Baghdad on Sunday.
Police reported the discovery of 27 more bodies discarded in various parts of the Baghdad overnight and Thursday morning. The victims were all men, some with their hands bound, who had been shot execution-style and dumped in both Shiite and Sunni Muslim neighborhoods, said Interior Ministry official Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi.
A pianist played as representatives of the countries main ethnic and religious blocs — many in traditional Arab and Kurdish dress — filed into a convention center behind the concrete blast walls of the heavily fortified Green Zone for parliament’s first meeting.
The inaugural session started the clock on a 60-day period in which parliament must elect a president and approve a prime minister and Cabinet.
But there was little sign of progress after a second full day of meetings Wednesday among leaders of the major political blocs. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad brokered the sessions, designed to speed agreement on the next government’s shape.
“I expect that there still will be difficulties over choosing the prime minister,” said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish politician who was in Wednesday’s session.
Khalilzad has been pressing political leaders to reach agreement on a national unity government, under which the country’s majority Shiite Muslims would share Cabinet posts equitably with minority Sunnis and Kurds.
The Americans see that as the best way to blunt the Sunni-driven insurgency that has ravaged the country since 2003. If a strong central government were in place, Washington had hoped to start removing some troops.
The parliamentary session comes as the U.S. military braces for violence ahead of the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq on March 20,2003, which coincides with a major religious commemoration that came under attack in the two previous years.
The military dispatched a battalion of soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division — about 700 troops — to Iraq from its base in Kuwait to provide extra security as tens of thousands of pilgrims converged on Shiite holy cities.
Authorities in one of the cities, Karbala, imposed a six-day driving ban starting Thursday in a bid to protect pilgrims this year.
U.S. strike reportedly kills 11
In violence Wednesday, a U.S. airstrike north of the capital killed 11 people — most of them women and children, said police and relatives of the victims. The U.S. military said it captured the target of the raid, a man suspected of supporting foreign fighters of the al-Qaida in Iraq terror network.
But the military said it could only account for four people killed — a man, two women and a child. “That doesn’t meant that we dispute 11,” said Maj. Tim Keefe, a military spokesman.
He said the suspect was captured as he fled the house, but U.S. troops were taking fire from the building and called in an airstrike. He did not specify whether the strike near Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, involved warplanes or gunships.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene said the roof of the house had collapsed, three cars were destroyed and two cows were killed.
Relatives said the 11 victims were wrapped in blankets and driven in three pickup trucks to the Tikrit General Hospital, about 45 miles to the north.
AP photographs showed the bodies of two men, five children and four other covered figures arriving at the hospital accompanied by grief-stricken relatives. The victims were covered in dust with bits of rubble tangled in their hair.
Riyadh Majid, who identified himself as the nephew of Faez Khalaf, the head of the household who was killed, told AP at the hospital that U.S. forces landed in helicopters and raided the home early Wednesday.
Khalaf’s brother, Ahmed, said nine of the victims were family members who lived at the house and two were visitors.
“The dead family was not part of the resistance, they were women and children,” he said. “The Americans have promised us a better life, but we get only death.”
In other violence, the military said a U.S. soldier was killed by mortar fire southwest of Baghdad. At least 2,311 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Bomb blasts also killed at least six more people and injured dozens Wednesday in Baghdad and north of the capital. The worst attacks were in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, where there were at least three explosions.