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Iraqi Parliament speaker chosen after days of deadlock

By Arwa Damon and Hamdi Alkhshali, CNN
updated 3:46 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
A Syrian Kurdish refugee child from the Kobani area holds laundry on a cold morning at a camp in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, on Monday, November 17. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. ISIS has been advancing in Iraq and Syria as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in the region. A Syrian Kurdish refugee child from the Kobani area holds laundry on a cold morning at a camp in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, on Monday, November 17. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. ISIS has been advancing in Iraq and Syria as it seeks to create an Islamic caliphate in the region.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Iraq elects a Sunni politician as Parliament speaker
  • It marks first real step to form new government after lawmakers convened, failed to make a move
  • Iraq is facing a powerful insurgency from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria
  • Secretary of State John Kerry issues congratulations to Iraq

(CNN) -- Iraqi lawmakers elected a Sunni politician as Parliament speaker Tuesday, finally taking a step to form a new government after two weeks of deadlock while the country faces a powerful Islamist militant insurgency.

Lawmakers elected Salim al-Jabouri, the head of a Sunni coalition, as speaker of Iraq's Council of Representatives.

The Iraqi Constitution mandates that the job go to a Sunni Muslim. The body also elected two deputy speakers.

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Al-Jabouri announced that lawmakers are accepting nominations for president, saying that there are three days to nominate and then the body will reconvene.

The president must be Kurdish and the prime minister a Shiite.

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The body had convened July 1 to elect a new speaker, but the session quickly descended into bickering between members of different parties and had to be rescheduled for July 8. That session was delayed, and more arguing erupted.

Under the constitution, the Parliament has 75 days from when it convenes to pick a prime minister.

While lawmakers are under pressure to act quickly, the political body has had trouble moving swiftly in the past. The last time Parliament met to pick a prime minister, it took nearly 10 months.

The quagmire persists even as fighters with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS -- a Sunni-dominated al Qaeda splinter group -- have overtaken large swaths of Iraq and Syria.

The militants want to establish an Islamic state spanning both countries.

President Barack Obama has authorized 300 military advisers in Iraq, 210 of which are there now. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement of congratulation to Iraq for electing a speaker and deputy speakers.

"The election of a speaker is the first step in the critical process of forming a new government that can take into account the rights, aspirations, and legitimate concerns of all Iraq's communities," the statement read. "We urge Iraq's leaders to follow this achievement with rapid formation of a new government pursuant to Iraq's constitutional timelines."

The statement urged the international community to support Iraq's "democrative political process," adding that the "stakes of Ira's future" depend on its leaders to work together and stand against ISIS.

Obama has ordered an assessment of Iraqi security forces, which was given Monday to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Pentagon officials will review the report that evaluates the capabilities, training, morale, leadership and command and control of Iraqi forces and then hand it to the President and give Obama their recommendations for the best next steps in supporting Iraq.

Many Iraqi troops abandoned their posts and fled when faced with attacks from ISIS.

Two U.S. officials told CNN this week that the administration is concerned about the overwhelming sectarianism among members of Iraq's security forces. American commanders are concerned if the United States moves into a direct advisory role of Iraqi government forces, it will be perceived as taking sides with the Iranian-backed Shiite elements inside Iraqi units.

In Syria, ISIS continues to gain ground. As of Monday, the group controlled about 95% of the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, which borders Iraq, according to the UK-based opposition group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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CNN's Yasmin Amir and Ashley Fantz contributed to this report.

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