Iraqi assembly elects speaker
Iraqi politicians elected a Sunni Arab to be the speaker of parliament yesterday, ending a political impasse and taking a decisive step towards forming a government nine weeks after historic elections.
In a ballot, the members of the 275-seat National Assembly voted overwhelmingly to elect Hajem al-Hassani, the current industry minister, as speaker. Mr Hassani, a religious Sunni, is an ally of Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
"We passed the first hurdle," Mr Hassani told reporters. "The Iraqi people have proven that they can overcome the political crisis that has plagued the country for the last two months."
But he also warned against complacency: "If we neglect our responsibilities and fail, we will hurt ourselves and the people will replace us with others."
Shi'ite politician Hussain Shahristani and Kurdish lawmaker Arif Tayfor were named deputy speakers. The Shi'ites and Kurds, who came first and second in the elections, agreed that a member of the once-dominant Sunni Arab minority should be speaker.
The vote took place hours after insurgents mounted a brazen attack on Abu Ghraib jail outside Baghdad, battling US forces for an hour. Al Qaeda's wing in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack, in which 44 US troops were wounded.
While the meeting was going on, a mortar round struck near Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, where the assembly gathered, causing a loud blast but little damage, officials said.