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Deadlocked Iraqi parliament postpones decision on country's new government

BAGHDAD--Iraq's deadlocked parliament failed Sunday to overcome the deep divisions hampering the formation of a new government, making no progress on choosing new leaders who could help hold the nation together and confront the Sunni militant blitz that has overrun much of the country.

The legislature is under pressure to quickly choose a new speaker of parliament, president and prime minister — the first steps toward a new government. The international community has pressed lawmakers to put their differences aside, while the United Nations has warned of chaos if the political impasse drags on for too long.

Hopes had been raised that lawmakers might at least vote on a speaker of parliament after Sunni blocs announced late Saturday that they had agreed on a candidate for the post, Salim al-Jubouri. But acting parliament speaker Mahdi al-Hafidh was forced to adjourn Sunday's session after just 30 minutes, he said, “due to the absence of any agreement on the names of the nominees for the three posts.”

“There are still deep differences,” he said. “We need more discussions to agree on the names.”

He scheduled the next session for Tuesday.

The names aren't the only point of contention. There is also disagreement on whether to choose the speaker, president and prime minister individually, or to agree to all three as a sort of package deal — which has been the case in the past.

Under an informal arrangement that took hold after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the speaker's chair goes to a Sunni, the presidency to a Kurd and the prime minister's post to a Shiite. The greatest disagreement is over prime minister, the most powerful position in the country.

The incumbent, Nouri al-Maliki, has ruled the country since 2006 but is now under pressure to step aside. His government's inability to prevent the militant offensive over the past month has sapped public — and international — confidence in his ability to hold Iraq together.

Al-Maliki's opponents, and even many of his former allies, accuse him of trying to monopolize power and alienating the Sunni community, and are pushing him to not seek a third consecutive term. Al-Maliki has so far refused to withdraw his candidacy, and points to his State of Law bloc's capturing the most seats in April elections to claim he has a mandate.

The urgency for Iraq's lawmakers to bridge their differences and forge an agreement stems from the threat the nation faces from the Sunni militants who swept across much of northern and western Iraq over the past month, raising the prospect of an Iraq cut in three along ethnic and sectarian lines.

On Sunday, the insurgents barreled unopposed into the town of Duluiyah, some 80 kilometers (45 miles) north of Baghdad, seizing the mayor's office, police station, local council and courthouse, a police officer said. They also blew up a bridge that links the town with the predominantly Shiite city of Balad nearby.

The Iraqi military launched a counterattack that drove the militants from part of Duluiyah, but clashes were still raging around the police station and mayor's office, the officer said, adding that six members of the security forces and six pro-government Sunni militiamen had been killed in the fighting.

A medical official in the nearby city of Samarra confirmed the casualty figures.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Insurgent Speech

The insurgents are led by the Islamic State extremist group, which has declared the establishment of an Islamic state ruled by Shariah law in the territory it has seized straddling the Iraq-Syria border.

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