Iraqi MPs quit session aimed at replacing speaker

The session is the third canceled this week as politicians bicker over the premier’s reforms to bring more technocrats

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A group of Iraqi lawmakers announced their withdrawal on Saturday from a session of parliament aimed at selecting a replacement for the speaker, apparently leaving it without the necessary quorum.

Iraq was on course to have two rival claimants to the speakership, further increasing chaos in parliament, which has already seen a vote to sack speaker Salim al-Juburi, a fistfight among MPs and a sit-in this week.

The political turmoil had sidelined Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s efforts to replace the current cabinet, a setback for the premier.

Both the United Nations and Washington have warned that the political wrangling could undermine Iraq’s fight against ISIS group, which overran large areas in 2014 but has since lost significant ground.

MP Qassem al-Araji announced that 23 lawmakers from the Shiite Badr bloc were withdrawing from the session, saying the parliamentary division could result in two governments and undermine the fight against ISIS.

“We were living with two parliaments, and that could lead to two governments,” Araji told journalists, warning that might result in “the collapse of the front” against ISIS.

“We are against dividing the parliament and we want to maintain the democratic political process in Iraq,” Araji said.

Juburi rejected the Thursday vote to remove him on the grounds that the session lacked a quorum and called parliament to meet on Saturday, but cancelled the session over an unspecified security risk.

But his opponents insisted that the vote to sack him was legitimate and planned to hold their own session on Saturday to nominate replacements for Juburi and his two deputies.

The Badr withdrawal effectively precludes the session from being held, though it was not immediately clear if it was final or just a strategy to gain concessions.

Badr chief Hadi al-Ameri is a top commander of Shiite paramilitary forces fighting against IS, and also aspires to a senior government post.

MP Kadhim al-Shammari, a member of another bloc involved in the anti-Juburi session, called on the Badr lawmakers to return and “participate with their brothers in writing a new history for Iraq.”

Abadi has called for the current cabinet of party-affiliated ministers to be replaced by a government of technocrats, but has faced significant resistance from the powerful parties that rely on control of ministries for patronage and funds.

Those efforts have been put on hold by disputes over the new lineup and by the move to oust the speaker.

Meanwhile, popular Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr gave the parliament 72 hours to vote to form a cabinet of technocrats.

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