Kurdish politician Fuad Masum became Iraq’s new president on Thursday, in a step toward forming a government that visiting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said must be inclusive for the country to survive.
An onslaught last month on Sunni Arab areas north and west of Baghdad led by the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, has brought Iraq to the brink of breakup, with the government struggling to assert any authority beyond its Shiite power base.
The Iraqi parliament elected Masum, who served as the first prime minister of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region more than two decades ago, by an overwhelming majority of 211 votes to 17.
Under an unofficial power-sharing deal, Iraq’s Kurds traditionally get the post of president. The move could pave the way for a deal on the much more powerful post of prime minister.
Ban met Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and stressed the need for a broad-based government to be formed as soon as possible to save the country from collapse.
“Iraq is facing an existential threat, but it can be overcome by the formation of a thoroughly inclusive government,” Ban said at a joint news conference with al-Maliki. “It is critical that all political leaders fulfill their responsibilities to ensure that the government formation process falls within the constitutional timetable.”
Hours later and only a short drive from where Ban was speaking, twin car bombs ripped through a busy restaurant and shopping area of central Baghdad, killing at least 15 people, police and medical sources said.
The Shiite premier has accused mainstream politicians from the Sunni Arab minority of condoning the Islamic State offensive and of “dancing in the blood” of the people killed in the onslaught.
Many retort that it was al-Maliki’s own brand of sectarian politics that brought the country to the brink of collapse, and he now faces intense domestic and foreign pressure to step aside.
He was also criticized over the Iraqi military’s poor performance in the face of the lightning offensive launched by the Islamic State in Mosul on June 9.
Insurgents launched a spectacular predawn assault on Thursday on a convoy transferring inmates convicted of terrorism charges in Taji, only 25km north of Baghdad.
According to police and medical sources, at least 60 people died in the attack, which saw militants ram a security convoy with a suicide car bomb before detonating other bombs and raking it with gunfire.
Nearly all of the 60 prisoners believed to be on the bus died.
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