Top Iraq cleric rebukes lawmakers over disunity

Top Iraq cleric rebukes  lawmakers over disunity
Iraq’s top Shiite cleric chastised parliament on Friday for failing to unite in the face of a jihadist-led blitz that threatens to break up the country, and urged lawmakers to quickly form a government. A top Sunni leader backed away from his bid to become speaker of parliament when it reconvenes next week, a move that could break the deadlock after a farcical opening session that dampened hopes Iraq’s fractious politicians could close ranks in a time of crisis.

And in a rare piece of good news in the weeks since jihadist-led militants overran swathes of territory, 46 Indian nurses caught up in the conflict were freed and headed home. With parliament next due to meet Tuesday, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani criticised lawmakers for failing to pick a speaker at this week’s opening session, which saw MPs trade threats before walking out.
‘The failure to elect a head of parliament and their deputies before it adjourned was a regrettable failure,’ Sistani’s spokesman Ahmed al-Safi said during a Friday prayer sermon in Karbala.
‘The speeding up of forming a government within the constitutional framework with wide national consensus is of the utmost importance,’ Safi added. He was echoing earlier remarks from UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov, who warned that a failure to form a government would lead to ‘Syria-like chaos.’
Octogenarian Sistani is revered by Iraq’s Shiite majority and his stature dwarfs that of any single politician.

Deputies need to choose a speaker and then elect a president before they can move on to the formation of a government, and the key question of a possible third term for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Seen as sectarian and divisive by many, the Shiite premier points to his huge popular mandate after his State of Law coalition dominated April’s parliamentary elections. But his bid for re-election was dealt a blow by Osama al-Nujaifi, who held the speaker’s position in the previous parliament and announced he would not seek a new tenure.

The complex game of alliances being played over Iraq’s top three posts means that, although the two men are rivals, Nujaifi’s withdrawal is seen as removing a key obstacle to Maliki’s ouster.
‘The goal of change demands sacrifice, and I am willing to do this for the sake of my nation, its people and the future of my country,’ said Nujaifi, long a virulent critic and rival of the premier.
But in a sign of still-persistent divisions, Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani called on Thursday on his autonomous region’s lawmakers to speed up work on an independence referendum.

Iraqi airstrikes target Sunni militants
A spokesman for Iraqi counter terrorism forces says government airstrikes have targeted a group of Sunni militants trying to overrun the country’s largest oil refinery, and claims as many as 30 insurgents were killed. Sabah al-Nuaman says a government plane targeted around eight vehicles attacking military forces defending the Beiji oil refinery north of Baghdad early on Friday. Fighters from the Islamic State extremist group have been trying to capture the Beiji facility from some two weeks.

Al-Nuaman also says a helicopter gunship hit a house in the town of Qaim near the Syrian border where a gathering of the jihadi group’s local leaders was taking place. He says there were several casualties, but did not have a concrete figure. An official in the Anbar province operational command confirmed the Qaim airstrike.


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