The United Nations warned on Saturday that Iraq’s deeply divided politicians must quickly form a government or risk descent into “chaos”, as security forces beat back one assault but lost ground elsewhere.
Iraqi MPs are to hold a parliament session on Sunday to hasten the appointment of a parliamentary speaker, president and premier, in the hope that a new leadership can better counter a rebel offensive that began last month.
“Elections were held in which doctor Salim al-Juburi won the confidence of the lawmakers present, and he was confirmed as the Sunni bloc’s candidate for speaker of parliament,” a statement from parliament’s United for Change Sunni grouping said.
By convention, the role of head of parliament is awarded to Iraq’s Sunnis, the post of president to the Kurds and premiership reserved for Iraq’s Shia.
The statement was sent on behalf of a wider meeting of Sunni lawmakers, who also pledged not to accept incumbent premier Nouri al-Maliki for a third term.
Such a condition could be a stumbling block in forming a new government, given Maliki’s vow earlier this month to never give up on his candidacy for another turn as Iraqi leader.
The previous session of parliament earlier this month ended in mayhem, with MPs trading insults and threats. Too few returned to the chamber after a break meant to cool tempers and the quorum needed to proceed with a vote was lost.
UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov warned Iraqi politicians that: “Failure to move forward on electing a new speaker, a new president and a new government risks plunging the country into chaos.”
“It will only serve the interests of those who seek to divide the people of Iraq and destroy their chances for peace and prosperity,” he said.
Attendance could be a problem, with parliament not even able to reach a quorum for an emergency session called at the height of the rebel offensive last month.
Abdulsalam al-Maliki, an MP from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s list, said any member of the Shia National Alliance who stays away is siding with “the enemies of Iraq”.
Battling Islamic State forces
In Anbar province, security forces backed by tribal fighters held off a major attack by Islamic State (IS) fighters on Haditha, a town northwest of Baghdad made strategic by the large nearby dam and its oil refinery.
The attack on Haditha, located on the road linking IS-held western areas and the provincial capital Ramadi, began with mortar fire, police said.
Gunmen travelling in vehicles, including some captured from security forces, then attacked from two sides but were kept from entering the town in fighting that left 13 IS fighters and four police dead, officers and a doctor said.
Previous attacks on Haditha were of a smaller scale and the capture of the dam by IS would raise the prospect of it being used to cut water or flood areas downstream, as happened earlier this year elsewhere in Anbar.
In Diyala province, meanwhile, security forces and civilian volunteers on Saturday launched a push to retake areas north of Muqdadiyah, a town on a main road to provincial capital Baquba, a police captain said.
But in a setback for government forces, rebels overran the Shiite-majority towns of Al-Tawakul and Al-Zarkush in the province, displacing local residents, witnesses said.
In Jalawla, another Diyala town, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters began a major operation to expel IS fighters from areas they hold, a senior Kurdish officer said.
Major General Hussein Mansur said Kurdish forces were using tanks and artillery in the battle, and had succeeded in retaking territory from the Islamic State rebels.
Kurdish authorities on Friday laid claim to disputed northern oilfields in a move slammed by Baghdad.
The Baghdad-Kurd row has dimmed the prospects of significant progress in forming a new government when parliament meets on Sunday.