Iraq’s new parliament holds first session in chaos

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s new parliament re-elected its speaker on Sunday, the first step in forming a new government after the election results were questioned by a powerful Iran-backed faction.

Reflecting the tension, the meeting was thrown into chaos, with the eldest congressman leading the meeting apparently being evacuated to a hospital under pressure.

The chaotic meeting could spark a protracted political battle between rival groups to choose a new president and prime minister. As the leader of the largest group, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — the maverick leader who led a rebellion against U.S. troops after the 2003 invasion To be remembered – had the upper hand in forming a new government. But he will have to deal with tensions with rival Shiite groups that continue to reject the election results and demand a voice in the formation of the government.

Under the Iraqi constitution, the largest bloc in parliament has the right to choose a new prime minister. But as Sunday’s meeting began, a coalition known as the Shia Coordination Framework, a coalition of Shia factions opposed to the vote’s result, submitted a list of lawmakers it claims now has the largest parliamentary bloc, with 88 seats instead of Sadr.

Chaos broke out briefly in the chamber as lawmakers gathered around Mahmoud Mashhadani, who chaired the meeting. Minutes later, the 73-year-old lawmaker was carried out of the room by security forces and strapped to an ambulance, taking him to a hospital where he was visited by heads of political and militia factions. The lawmaker appeared to be doing well, according to witnesses who later saw him there.

Following the hiatus, parliamentary sessions resumed, although the majority’s problems were not immediately resolved.

Later, 200 MPs elected the current Speaker of Parliament, Mohammad Halbusi, for a second term, while 14 MPs voted for Mashhadani.

Al-Halbousi’s Sunni party came second with 37 seats, and he is a former Anbar governor who has the backing of Sadr, Kurds and Sunni groups.

Earlier Sunday, lawmakers from Sadr’s group arrived at Baghdad’s parliament building early, donning the white shroud that Muslims use to wrap the dead to show they were willing to die for him. Sadr, one of Iraq’s most influential political leaders, was the biggest winner in the Oct. 10 vote, winning 73 of the 329 seats in parliament.

The pro-Iran faction accused of voter fraud lost about two-thirds of its seats – a major blow. Supporters of the armed group pitched tents and sat in sit-ins around the so-called Green Zone in the capital, home to the Iraqi government and many foreign diplomatic missions, for more than two months while they appealed to Iraq’s Supreme Court.

Tensions culminated in November when armed drones attempted to assassinate Prime Minister Mustafa Kadimi’s residence – an attack blamed on Iran-aligned groups. The Prime Minister is safe and sound.

The court rejected an appeal by the Iran-backed faction and approved the election results late last month, clearing the way for a government to be formed.

Lawmakers in Sunday’s session are expected to elect a speaker and two delegates. Parliament will then have to elect a new president, who will have 15 days to appoint a prime minister nominated by the largest bloc to form a new government.

Under an unofficial agreement dating back to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Iraq’s presidency — a largely ceremonial role — is held by Kurds, while the prime minister is a Shiite and the speaker of the parliament is a Sunni.

Elections were held months early in response to mass protests in late 2019, with tens of thousands of people rallying in Baghdad and the predominantly Shiite southern provinces against endemic corruption, poor services and unemployment. They also protested the gross interference in Iraqi affairs by neighboring Iran through Iran-backed militias.

Independent candidates elected from the October 2019 protest movement secured nine seats under the Imtidad list. Some of them arrived at the parliament building by tuk-tuk from Tahrir Square, the heart of the protest movement. The colorful tricycles carrying demonstrators back and forth in the square have become a symbol of the protest movement.

Hamzeh Hadad, a political analyst, said the makeup of the new parliament could help make elected officials more accountable to the public due to the new smaller electoral districts.

“With the election of many independent and new parties, such as the International Electric Angle Movement, we are seeing a real opposition in parliament for the first time,” he said. “That’s what Iraqis want to see from the new legislature.”

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