Sunnis, Kurds shun Iraq Parliament

The UN, US, Iran and Iraq's own Shi'ite clergy have pushed hard for an inclusive government.

FILE: Sunnis and Kurds walked out of the first session of Iraq's new Parliament on Tuesday.

BAGHDAD - Sunnis and Kurds walked out of the first session of Iraq's new Parliament on Tuesday after Shi'ites failed to name a prime minister to replace Nuri al-Maliki, dimming any prospect of an early national unity government to save Iraq from collapse.

The United States, United Nations, Iran and Iraq's own Shi'ite clergy have pushed hard for politicians to come up with an inclusive government to hold the fragmenting country together as Sunni insurgents bear down on Baghdad.

With Shi'ites failing to name a prime minister, Sunnis and Kurds refused to return from a recess to the parliamentary chamber in Baghdad's fortified "green zone" where they were meeting for the first time since an election in April.

Parliament is not likely to meet again for at least a week, leaving Iraq in political limbo and Maliki clinging to power as a caretaker, rejected by Sunnis and Kurds.

Under a governing system put in place after the removal of Saddam Hussein, the prime minister has always been a member of the Shi'ite majority, the speaker of parliament a Sunni and the largely ceremonial president a Kurd.

The Shi'ite bloc known as the National Alliance, in which Maliki's State of Law coalition is the biggest group, has met repeatedly in recent days to bargain over the premiership but has so far been unable either to endorse Maliki for a third term or to name an alternative.

Fewer than a third of lawmakers returned from the recess. Sunni parties said they would not put forward their candidate for speaker until the Shi'ites pick a premier. The Kurds have also yet to nominate a president.

Osama al-Nujaifi, a leading Sunni politician, former speaker and strong foe of Maliki, warned that "without a political solution, the sound of weapons will be loud, and the country will enter a black tunnel".

He said his bloc did not have a candidate for a speaker so far and was waiting to see who the National Alliance would nominate for prime minister.

"If there is a new policy with a new prime minister, we will deal with them positively. Otherwise the country will go from bad to worse," Nujaifi said.

Shi'ite lawmakers sought to shift blame to the Sunni and Kurdish blocs, saying the premiership was the last position to be named in the constitutionally-defined process.

Mehdi al-Hafidh, parliament's oldest member who is tasked by the constitution with chairing the legislature's meetings until a speaker is named, said the next session would be held in a week, if agreement was possible after discussions.