BAGHDAD: Iraqi lawmakers broke their deadlock Tuesday and elected a new speaker of parliament, taking the first formal step toward forming a new government that is widely seen as crucial to confronting militants who have overrun much of the country.
Still, it was not clear whether lawmakers had reached a larger deal that would also include agreement on the most contentious decision - the choice for prime minister. The incumbent, Nouri al-Maliki, has ruled the country since 2006 but is under intense pressure to step aside. So far, he has insisted on staying for a third term.
After voting behind closed doors, the legislature tallied the results on a white board wheeled into the hall that showed Sunni lawmaker Salim al-Jubouri winning with 194 votes in the 328-seat parliament. A second candidate, Shorooq al-Abayachi, received 19 votes. There were 60 abstentions.
Lawmakers broke into applause after Jubouri passed the 165-vote threshold needed to win the post, before the proceedings turned to electing two deputy speakers - one Shiite and one Kurd.
According to the constitution, parliament now has 30 days to elect a president, who will then have 15 days to ask the leader of the largest bloc in the legislature to form a government. Then a prime minister will be picked.
Under an informal agreement that took hold after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the speaker's chair goes to a Sunni, the presidency to a Kurd and the prime minister's post to a Shiite.
The inability of Maliki's government to prevent the militant offensive over the past month has deeply shaken confidence, both at home and abroad, in his ability to hold Iraq together. His opponents and even many of his former allies accuse him of trying to monopolize power and alienating the Sunni minority.
Maliki has so far refused to withdraw his candidacy, and insists he has a mandate because his State of Law bloc won the most seats in April elections.
The panic that initially gripped Iraq after Sunni militants led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) extremist group seized the country's second-largest city, Mosul, and swept across northern and western Iraq has largely subsided. After appearing on the verge of collapse, Iraq's security forces have stiffened while the insurgent offensive has eased, which has helped stabilize the front lines.
Still, clashes and attacks still take place daily in the main conflict zones, including Tuesday in two towns located in a Sunni belt that runs just south of the capital.
Two bombs in quick succession killed at least nine people in the town of Madain, some 20 kilometers southeast of Baghdad, officials said.
The first roadside bomb targeted a military convoy as it traveled through the town at dawn, a policeman said. A second explosion then struck as pro-government militia members rushed to the scene to help those hit by the first blast.
The police official said five militiamen and four soldiers were killed, while seven others were wounded. A medical official confirmed the figures.
Another roadside bomb killed four soldiers, including two officers, during a patrol in the town of Youssifiyah, located 20 kilometers south of the capital, a police officer said. Four other soldiers were wounded in the attack, he added.
A medical official confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.