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.
But just 30 minutes into Sunday's parliament session, acting speaker Mahdi al-Hafidh announced he was breaking off the proceedings until Tuesday "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."
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 even that proved difficult, and lawmakers dispersed amid mutual recriminations.
"We have presented our candidate for the post of the parliament speaker," said leading Sunni lawmaker Osama al-Nujaifi. "We hold other blocs responsible for the delay."
Another Sunni legislator, Saleh al-Mutlaq, said that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed to support al-Jubouri's candidacy on the condition that Sunnis back al-Maliki for a third consecutive term. "This will not happen as we do not accept that," al-Mutlaq told The Associated Press.
Mohammed Saadoun, a lawmaker from al-Maliki's State of Law bloc, confirmed that al-Jubouri will not receive support without Sunnis first guaranteeing they will back al-Maliki for prime minister. "All sides that get our votes should be clear and giver their votes to us," he told AP.
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.
Al-Maliki has held the post since 2006, but is now under pressure to step aside. His 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 candidates 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.
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.