Three months after a landmark election, Iraq's new parliament convened for the first time yesterday amid worsening communal violence and little sign of a deal on a government of national unity.
But the inaugural session lasted just 40 minutes and was adjourned after all 275 members of the national assembly were collectively sworn in.
Adnan Pachachi, 83, who as eldest member presided over the new assembly, said the session would adjourn until political parties could agree on who was to be elected speaker.
"It has been decided to leave the session open pending political agreement on the designation of a speaker and his two deputies," said Pachachi, a former foreign minister.
Political parties remain deadlocked in their talks on forming a national unity government after the Dec. 15 election to choose the first full-term parliament following the US-led war that ousted former president Saddam Hussein in 2003.
"It is difficult to chose a new speaker and his deputies until a deal is reached on the whole government package," Hajem al-Hassani, the outgoing speaker, said in a televised interview.
The streets of Baghdadl were eerily quiet with vehicle traffic barred to keep car bombers at bay, while police and army units multiplied their checkpoints across the city. The 275 members of parliament met behind blast walls and razor wire in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone.
The government told civil servants to take a holiday and many other residents bunkered down at home, fearing attacks by insurgents bent on proving the caretaker government cannot guarantee security. Most shops remained closed.
Iraq's new parliament will again be dominated by the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance which can count on the support of 130 members of parliament.
The Kurdish coalition has 53 seats, while various Sunni parties control at least 55 seats. Secular-based and minority parties hold the remaining seats.
President Jalal Talabani suggested on Wednesday that the long awaited Cabinet should be ready by the end of this month, a conclusion deemed overly optimistic by rival politicians.
Outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari told state TV that forming the Cabinet would take a little longer: "I think a month is enough to form a government, if we keep to the Constitution."
Other politicians, however, note that deep gulfs remain on many key issues, including the Shiite choice of Jaafari to remain prime minister.
"I don't expect to see a new government before May," said one participant in the leaders' conference, Hassan Shumari, from the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance.
Deadly violence erupted in Halabja when Iraqi security forces fired into a crowd of Kurds rioting on the anniversary of Saddam's gas attack on the Kurdish town.
A 14-year-old boy was killed and six demonstrators in the clashes as some 7,000 protesters, including relatives of the 5,000 victims of the March 17, 1988 aerial attack, set up road blocks, attacked government offices and set fire to a memorial built to honor the dead.
Meanwhile, police overnight found 25 corpses that had been dumped in different parts of Baghdad, an official said.
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