Iraq’s parliament on Sunday convened for the first time since the holidays and picked up where it left off: fighting over the resignation of its volatile speaker, Mahmoud Mashadani.
The latest disagreement over who should replace Mashadani prompted four more lawmakers to pull out of the main Sunni Arab bloc, Tawafiq, deepening the divide among the Sunni groups. The defection came just two weeks after five members of Mashadani’s party, the National Dialogue Council, withdrew.
“Tawafiq is controlled by the Iraqi Islamic Party -- all the positions, everything,” said Khalaf Ayan of the National Dialogue Council. “Every other entity within Tawafiq is marginalized. We consider it as a dissolved front.”
Sunnis widely boycotted the last elections and thus are already underrepresented. The Sunni lawmakers have been unable to unify and continue to break into factions, underscoring the tenuous political landscape. With its numbers decreasing, Tawafiq could find it even harder to wield influence.
Parliament members had negotiated a deal requiring the new speaker to come from Tawafiq, but several Sunnis said the process needed to be more open. On Sunday, Tawafiq proposed Iyad Samarrai, a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, as speaker, but that choice met with criticism.
Taha Luhaibi, a member of the Independent Democratic Gathering, which withdrew from Tawafiq over the weekend, said Sunni lawmakers met late into the night to discuss an alternative to allow each Sunni party to submit a candidate.
Tawafiq officials defended their choice of Samarrai and said they remained a strong, viable coalition.
Unlike Mashadani, Samarrai is known for his calm demeanor during crises, said Noureddine Hyali of the Iraqi Islamic Party. “No matter the pressures that are forced against Tawafiq, we will back Samarrai,” he said.
In 2006, Tawafiq had 44 members from three Sunni groups. After Sunday, its numbers dropped to 32, Hyali said.
Special correspondents in Baghdad contributed to this report.