Members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) prepare before going out on a patrol in the town of Jurf al-Sakhar, south of Baghdad, June 30, 2014. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
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A crucial parliamentary session to begin the process of forming a new government and deciding the political future of embattled premier Nouri al-Maliki kicks off Tuesday, following mortar fire near a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra.With parliament to open its first session Tuesday, Iraq's 328 MPs were to choose a new speaker, a national president and a prime minister.Maliki staked his reputation as the leader who brought violence under control in 2008 as Iraq emerged from a brutal Sunni-Shiite sectarian war.But a rise in unrest this year, culminating in the sudden advance of jihadist-led Sunni militants who overran swathes of territory, has done significant damage.Under a de facto agreement, the Iraqi premier – by far the most powerful position in the country – is typically a Shiite Arab, the parliament speaker is Sunni Arab, and the national president a Kurd.Maliki's supporters insist he is still the man to lead the country and warned that – with Iraq mired in what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called an "existential" conflict – replacing the premier, who doubles as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, could worsen instability.
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