Iraqi lawmakers fail to elect president for a second time

Mar 26, 2022, 6:49 AM | Updated: 8:12 am
Lawmakers belonging to Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's parliamentary bloc prepare to attend a parlia...

Lawmakers belonging to Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's parliamentary bloc prepare to attend a parliamentary session in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, March 26, 2022. The Iraqi parliament is holding a session Saturday to elect the president of the republic amid disagreements and boycott by several parliament blocs. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

(AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi lawmakers failed for a second time on Saturday to select a head of state, further deepening a political crisis spurred by infighting following federal elections five months ago.

Only 202 lawmakers arrived to Iraq’s parliament, falling short of the two-thirds quorum required for the 329-member legislature to conduct an electoral session to select the country’s president. Saturday’s vote could not be held as many lawmakers allied with Iran-backed parties did not attend. Another electoral session is scheduled for Wednesday.

Iraqi politicians have so far failed to agree on a compromise candidate for the presidency, exacerbating a political vacuum that also prevents the appointment of a prime minister. Political groups now have two options, lawmakers said: Continue negotiations until consensus is reached or dissolve parliament and hold federal elections again.

“Now the political process is in trouble,” said Shiite lawmaker Muhammad Saadoun Al-Sayhoud.

Only 58 lawmakers showed up to the first presidential vote in parliament in early February. That time, al-Sadr boycotted the session after Iraq’s Supreme Court suspended the nomination of front-runner Hoshyar Zebari, his bloc’s endorsed candidate. This time, their lawmakers arrived to parliament, draped in white shrouds that Muslims use to wrap their dead, in a sign of their willingness to die for the cleric.

Saturday’s failure to achieve quorum reflects ongoing disagreements between Moqtada al-Sadr, who won the largest number of seats in the 2021 October federal election, and a coalition of Iran-backed Shiite parties that form the Coordination Framework over the nomination of candidates.

Al-Sadr’s win, with 73 seats, was a major upset to Iran-backed parties. But the powerful cleric’s intention to form a government with Kurdish and Sunni allies while excluding the Iran-backed parties has proven difficult. Rebar Khalid, interior minister in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, has been the choice candidate of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, al-Sadr’s ally.

Lawmakers belonging to their Kurdish rivals, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, were conspicuous no-shows to the session.

Parallel to the parliament session, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, allied with the Coordination Framework, held a gathering in his home with many lawmakers in attendance, in open defiance of the vote.

Based on an agreement forged after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Iraq’s presidency — a largely ceremonial role — is held by a Kurd, while the prime minister is Shiite and the parliament speaker is Sunni.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s government has been carrying out state duties with a caretaker status.

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              Lawmakers belonging to Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's parliamentary bloc prepare to attend a parliamentary session in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, March 26, 2022. The Iraqi parliament is holding a session Saturday to elect the president of the republic amid disagreements and boycott by several parliament blocs. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
            
              Lawmakers belonging to Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's parliamentary bloc prepare to attend a parliamentary session in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, March 26, 2022. The Iraqi parliament is holding a session Saturday to elect the president of the republic amid disagreements and boycott by several parliament blocs. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
            
              Lawmakers belonging to Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's parliamentary bloc prepare to attend a parliamentary session in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, March 26, 2022. The Iraqi parliament is holding a session Saturday to elect the president of the republic amid disagreements and boycott by several parliament blocs. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

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Iraqi lawmakers fail to elect president for a second time