BAGHDAD -- Iraq's parliament erupted in acrimony at only its second sitting on Tuesday and journalists were thrown out after lawmakers berated leaders for failing to agree on a new government, two months after historic elections.
When parliamentarians were told that despite last-minute talks that delayed the session no agreement had been reached, even on the post of parliamentary speaker, several stood up to say leading politicians were letting down the Iraqi people.
"The Iraqi people who defied the security threats and voted -- what shall we tell them? What is the reason for this delay?" Hussein al-Sadr, a politician in the bloc led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, asked the assembly before the news blackout.
As the meeting grew heated, the interim speaker ordered journalists to leave and Iraqi television abruptly switched to Arab music. Allawi walked out of the session shortly afterwards.
'WE ARE IN CRISIS'
Iraqi National Assembly members are in session Tuesday, March 29, 2005 in the heavily fortified Green Zone area in Baghdad, Iraq. Shouting from their seats, lawmakers failed to agree on a parliament speaker during their second-ever National Assembly meeting Tuesday, with wrangling over bringing in Sunni Arabs - a step officials hope will quell the Sunni-led insurgency - prolonging already tortuous talks on forming a new government. (Wathiq Khuzaie, Pool)
"You can say we are in a crisis," Barham Salih, a leading Kurdish politician, told reporters.
Ahead of the meeting blasts echoed across Baghdad and a militant group said in an Internet statement it had fired four mortars into the fortified Green Zone where politicians were meeting. There were no reports of damage.
Two months after more than 8 million Iraqis braved suicide bombers and insurgent threats to vote in the Jan. 30 polls, many are increasingly angry that despite haggling no agreement has been reached on forming a government.
"It is a farce," said 30-year-old taxi driver Mohammed Ahmed Ali. "If they couldn't form a government till now, how will they lead a country?"
The mainly Shi'ite alliance, which holds just over half the seats, and the Kurdish coalition that came second in the polls have been arguing for weeks on a cabinet line-up.
They have been trying also to involve Sunni Arabs, who dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein but have been left with little representation because most voters in Sunni Arab areas stayed away from the polls.
But no deal has been reached, and several government officials say the delay has stalled key projects, deepened chaos and hampered efforts to defeat the Sunni insurgency. Political uncertainty also dents Washington's plans to increasingly hand over security to Iraqi forces and cut back foreign troops.
The Shi'ite bloc accuses Allawi of contributing to the delay in forming of government. Shi'ites and Kurds also say Sunni Arabs need to speed up the nomination of a speaker.
MPs said they would meet again on Sunday to try to agree a speaker.
The Shi'ite alliance and the Kurdish coalition have agreed that the speaker should be a Sunni Arab, to give the Sunni minority more involvement in politics.
Most of the 17 Sunni Arabs in the 275-member parliament favor Adnan al-Janabi as their candidate, but he is an ally of Allawi, a secular Shi'ite who has so far declined to join the government, saying his bloc will move into opposition.
The Shi'ite alliance is backing Fawaz al-Jarba -- a Sunni who joined their bloc. But other Sunnis are against this as he is seen as too close to the Shi'ite alliance.
Mishan al-Jibouri, a Sunni Arab politican, said if Jarba was pushed through as speaker -- which the Shi'ites could do with their majority -- Sunni Arabs would walk out of parliament, leaving attempts to draw them into politics in tatters.
LONG ROAD AHEAD
Once a speaker is agreed, the National Assembly's next task will be to elect a president and two vice presidents. A two- thirds majority is needed for that, which will mean the Shi'ites and Kurds must reach a deal to muster enough votes.
The presidential triumvirate will then have two weeks to choose a prime minister, who will then appoint a cabinet.
"It could take up another two weeks to name a cabinet after the presidential council names a prime minister," said Jawad al-Maliki, a Shi'ite politician.
The Shi'ites and Kurds have broad agreement that Shi'ite Ibrahim Jaafari will be the next prime minister with Kurdish politician Jalal Talabani taking the president's post.
But officials have not agreed on the distribution of cabinet posts. The Kurds are expected to retain the Foreign Ministry, with the Defense Ministry going to a Sunni Arab. But the key Oil Ministry is a source of disagreement -- the Kurds covet it, but the Shi'ite alliance insists it should get the ministry.
"The Kurds will have enough key posts. We insist on retaining the Oil Ministry," Maliki said.
As politicians focused on horse-trading, insurgents pressed on with their campaign of violence.
Three Romanian journalists -- Marie Jeanne Ion and Sorin Miscoci of Prima TV and Ovidiu Ohanesian of Romania Libera newspaper -- were kidnapped in Iraq on Monday, officials said.
In Kirkuk, a car bomb exploded near an Iraqi army patrol and the convoy of a local official, killing one person and wounding 15. In Basra, the head of the South Oil company survived an assassination attempt, police said.
Insurgents posted video footage on the Internet showing them shooting dead three Arab drivers who said they worked for a Jordanian firm that transports goods to U.S. forces.
Additional reporting by Omar Anwar in Baghdad
Copyright © Reuters 2005