Mohammed al-Halbousi, a Sunni, elected parliamentary speaker

He won 200 votes out of 329 MPs elected in October. The first session was characterised by clashes and disruptions over majority status between the pro-Iranian Fatah and MPs close to al-Sadr. The acting speaker was hospitalised from exhaustion. The election of the new head of state is now set to begin; whoever is picked will be charged with naming the future prime minister who will form the government.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – The members of the Iraqi Council of Representatives (parliament) elected last October met yesterday for the first time after months of political and institutional stalemate, and re-elected MP Mohammed al-Halbousi (pictured), a Sunni, as speaker, as well as two deputy speakers after a process characterised by rows, controversies and repeated disruptions.

The leaders of Fatah, an Iranian-backed Shia coalition, and members of the State (Rule) of Law coalition of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki submitted a document to the acting speaker saying that they constituted the largest bloc in parliament with 88 seats.

MPs close to Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, winner of the elections on 10 October, responded immediately claiming they had the majority in the chamber based on the outcome of the polls.

In an increasingly tense climate, acting speaker Mahmoud al-Mashahadani was forced to interrupt the session and seek medical treatment himself in hospital due to exhaustion.

When the session resumed, the election ended with al-Halbousi’s mandate as speaker renewed with 200 votes out of 329 with the support of al-Sadr, Kurdish parties and Sunni MPs.

Hakim al-Zamili, who ran for Sadr’s party, was elected as Halbousi’s first deputy speaker, whilst Shakhwan Abdulla, from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), was voted in as a second deputy.

However, Shia Muslim parties close to Tehran rejected the results saying they would turn to the Supreme Court to contest their legality.

“What happened today inside the parliament is illegal and will have dire consequences on the state level," said Fatah lawmaker Humam al-Tamimi.

Now parliament has 30 days to elect the President of the Republic whose task is to pick a new prime minister capable of winning the support of a majority of MPs to form a new government.

Talks to elect a new head of state are expected to start today, said a source close to the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Under post-Saddam Hussein 2005 constitution, the post of head of state is reserved to an ethnic Kurd. To be elected, a candidate must obtain the support of two thirds of the Assembly (220 deputies).

In his first speech after his election, al-Halbousi stressed that the election of the speaker is the first step of the legislature, and that Iraqis expect a lot from their lawmakers.

He noted that it is important to fix the process and regain the confidence and consent of the population, and announced the upcoming election for the President of the Republic.

Picking the head of state and the future government are expected to ease sectarian tensions and ensure Iraq’s stability and future. For this reason, it is in everyone’s interest to ensure broad representativeness in the future cabinet.