As Washington pressures Iraq’s parliament to cancel its two-month summer break and focus on passing laws, Thursday’s session indicated that many lawmakers need a long break.
The governing body’s Sunni Arab speaker, Mahmoud Mashadani, slapped another lawmaker after being accused of not paying sufficient heed to the plight of Shiite Muslims displaced by sectarian violence.
“Damn you!” Mashadani said before hitting Hussein Falluji, a lawmaker from a rival Sunni party.
The altercation began when Shadha Mousawi, a Shiite lawmaker, complained that the government was ignoring the plight of several hundred Shiites who have been in the southern city of Karbala since mid-April after having fled their homes in Diyala province. Diyala is a stronghold of Sunni Muslim insurgents.
At one point as Mousawi was speaking, Mashadani smiled.
“How can you smile during such a time?” Mousawi said.
Other lawmakers began joining her in calls for action to assist the displaced people, infuriating Mashadani. He declared the meeting adjourned and headed for the door.
Falluji chided him for leaving and for surrounding himself with bodyguards, suggesting Mashadani was not important enough to warrant such security. Mashadani then lunged at Falluji and slapped him.
Bodyguards separated the two men.
It was only last month that Mashadani led calls for greater unity among lawmakers after a bombing in the parliament building that killed one lawmaker.
In his visit to Iraq on Wednesday, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney reminded Prime Minister Nouri Maliki of the White House’s concern over lawmakers’ plans to take a summer break while important laws are awaiting approval. Parliamentary infighting has delayed movement on several pieces of major legislation that Washington considers crucial to national reconciliation.
A special correspondent in Baghdad contributed to this report.