The new Iraqi Council of Representatives on Sunday opened with a heated inaugural session, three tense months after legislative elections won by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the likely kingmaker of the next government.
Al-Sadr, 47, who once led an anti-US militia and who has a large following, is expected to have the key say in who is to serve as the next prime minister, a post held by Mustafa al-Kadhemi.
Sunday saw the swearing in of the 329 members of the unicameral parliament and the re-election of Iraqi Representative Mohammed al-Halbousi, who is Sunni, as speaker.
However, a dispute broke out between lawmakers of the Shiite Coordination Framework coalition and their rivals under al-Sadr, several parliamentary sources said.
Iraq’s post-election period has been marred by high tensions, violence and allegations of voter fraud.
Iraqi Representative Mahmud al-Mashhadani, the oldest member of parliament who chaired Sunday’s session, was “hospitalized,” public television said.
Iraqi News Agency reported that he was in a “stable” condition, while a parliamentary source requesting anonymity said that al-Mashhadani “fainted.”
Videos filmed by lawmakers showed them fighting among themselves and the session was suspended for more than an hour before resuming.
Al-Sadr, who wears the black turban of a descendant of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed, emerged as the big winner of the polls on Oct. 10 last year.
The elections had been held several months early as a concession to a democracy movement.
Al-Sadr’s movement, which ran after he reversed an initial election boycott call, won 73 of the 329 seats.
Iraqi Representative Muthana Amin, who is Kurdish, said that Sunday’s session “began normally,” but that the Coordination Framework claimed it was the largest alliance in parliament, with 88 seats.
Mashhadani “asked for the information to be verified, after which he was abused,” Amin told reporters, without saying whether his hospitalization was linked to the incident.
Within 30 days of its inaugural session, the parliament must elect the president of the republic.
The new president must then appoint a premier, who is chosen by the largest coalition and has 30 days to form a government.
Some experts expect a new governing team in place by March for the oil-rich, but war-battered country of 40 million people.
Al-Sadr has repeatedly said that he wants to break with the Iraqi political tradition of a “consensus” government to instead build a majority government.
That would mean securing a ruling majority that would appoint a premier and a Cabinet from within its ranks.
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