BAGHDAD: Iraq’s new parliament delayed its next session for five weeks Monday, extending the country’s political paralysis in the face of a Sunni Islamist insurgency which claimed the life of an army general on the northwestern outskirts of Baghdad.
Saudi Arabia reported three shells hit the Arar area inside the country along its border with Iraq, where jihadist-led militants have gone on the offensive.
“Three shells struck near a residential complex in the northern border area, without causing casualties,” a border guard spokesman said, adding that an inquiry into the origin of the shelling was underway.
Citing the inability of political camps to reach “understanding and agreement” on nominations for the top three posts in government, the office of acting Speaker Mehdi al-Hafidh said parliament would not meet again until Aug. 12.
Putting off the work of reaching consensus for five weeks is a slap in the face to efforts by Iraq’s Shiites, the United States, the United Nations and Iran, who have urged the swift formation of an inclusive government to hold the country together.With no signs that Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will abandon his bid for a third term, his Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish opponents warn there is a risk that Iraq will fragment along ethnic and sectarian lines.
“Things are moving faster than the politicians can make decisions,” a senior Shiite member of parliament told Reuters.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), an Al-Qaeda offshoot, and a patchwork of Sunni insurgents are holding territory they seized in northern and western Iraq, the majority of it taken last month.
Kurds, who run their own autonomous region in northern Iraq, have taken advantage of the chaos to expand their territory.
The White House admitted it was disappointed in the developments, but did not see an alternative to its position that the only solution was political.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that ISIS posed an “existential threat” to Iraq.
“To confront that threat, the country will need to be united,” Earnest said.
“I don’t think anybody’s tried to minimize ... the difficulty of making these kinds of decisions and reaching these kinds of agreements.
“But to be blunt about it, reaching those agreements and making those difficult decisions are necessary for Iraq to survive.”
Top U.S. officials have delivered a series of hints that they believe that Maliki, who they blame for exacerbating sectarian divisions with strongman rule, must step aside.
Maliki said last week that he hoped to overcome the challenges blocking the formation of a new government after the new parliament’s first session ended without agreement on the top posts of prime minister, president and parliament speaker.
The Iraqi military, backed by Shiite militias and volunteers, has yet to take back any major cities but is trying to advance on Tikrit, the late dictator Saddam Hussein’s hometown in Salahuddin province.
A senior Iraqi general was killed in fighting with insurgents close to Baghdad Monday, as the army fights to hold militants back from the capital.
Major General Negm Abdullah Ali, commander of the army’s 6th division, responsible for defending part of Baghdad, was killed just 16 km northwest of the capital.
A few hours later, four policemen and three civilians were killed when a suicide bomber drove a minivan packed with explosives into a checkpoint in the mainly Shiite Kadhimiya district of northern Baghdad.
Top U.S. defense officials, who have deployed advisers to the region to assess the state of the Iraqi military, said last week the security forces were able to defend the capital but would have difficulty going on the offensive to recapture lost territory, mainly because of logistic weaknesses.
In the northeastern province of Diyala, where insurgents have been clashing with security forces, Shiite militias and volunteers for several weeks, Islamic State militants killed four civilians in the town of Udaim, a police officer said.
Under a governing system put in place after the removal of dictator Saddam Hussein, the prime minister has usually been a member of the Shiite majority, the speaker of parliament a Sunni and the largely ceremonial president a Kurd.
Politicians criticized the parliamentary postponement but held others responsible. Sunnis and Kurds blame the National Alliance, the Shiite grouping that includes Maliki’s State of Law list, for failing to name a new prime minister.
Most Sunnis and Kurds walked out of the last parliament, saying they believed the prime minister and president should be chosen along with the speaker as a package, not one at a time.
With parliament’s session one day away, they had not been able to resolve the impasse, so the acting speaker postponed the meeting.