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Iraqi lawmakers break political deadlock, elect speaker

| Tuesday, July 15, 2014, 5:48 p.m.

BAGHDAD — Iraq's parliament broke through two weeks of political deadlock on Tuesday to elect a speaker, a crucial first step toward forming a government that Iraqi leaders hope will pull this divided country out of crisis.

Sunni lawmaker Salim al-Juburi captured 71 percent of the votes. The session, broadcast live on state television, was attended by 273 of the Iraqi parliament's 328 members, acting speaker Mehdi Hafedh said after the vote, which drew applause inside the assembly.

The election of a speaker of parliament appeared to bring Iraq one step closer to forming a government headed by someone other than controversial Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Widespread opposition to Maliki, a Shiite Arab, among Iraq's Sunni Arab and Kurdish minorities, as well as some Shiite lawmakers, has been the main reason for the deadlock.

In practice, Iraq's government consists of a Sunni speaker of parliament, a Kurdish president and a Shiite prime minister, to balance the country's ethnic and religious diversity.

The speaker is chosen first. But in the past, political parties have agreed on all three, as part of a package deal, ahead of the formal vote.

Maliki, whose State of Law party controls the largest bloc in parliament, has insisted on pushing for a third term despite the opposition to him.

Nevertheless, Maliki might still be able to retain his post, according to Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq expert and nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Far from signaling a behind-the-scenes agreement on a new government, the vote showed only that both pro- and anti-Maliki camps regard the selection of a speaker as the way to push their agendas forward, Mardini said from the Kurdish regional capital, Irbil.

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