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Iraq political impasse deepens as parliament postpones session

Legislature has failed to make any headway on selecting a new prime minister, president or speaker

Iraq's deadlocked parliament on Monday postponed its next session until mid-August. The delay prolongs the country's political crisis despite urgent calls for a new government that might help heal sectarian tensions after recent gains by Sunni hard-liners, who have overrun a large part of the country.

The new legislature last week held its first session since April elections, but failed to make any headway on selecting a new prime minister, president or speaker of parliament.

Lawmakers had been expected to meet on Tuesday for a second session, but called it off after no progress had been made over the past week in resolving the political situation.

The parliament said in a statement Monday that "after discussions with the heads of the blocs and concerned parties," the next session  would instead be held Aug. 12. It expressed hope that "another chance will be available for more dialogue and discussions to arrange that meeting."

Under an informal system that took root after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, the prime minister's job goes to a Shia, the president's post to a Kurd and the speaker of parliament's chair to a Sunni.

The main point of contention right now is the post of prime minister, which holds most of the power in Iraq.

Incumbent Nouri al-Maliki, whose State of Law bloc won the largest share of seat in April's election, has vowed he will not abandon his bid for a third consecutive term. But he did not win a majority in parliament and so needs allies to form a government, setting the stage for what now appear to be protracted political negotiations.

Maliki is facing pressure to step aside, in part because many in the country accuse him of monopolizing power and contributing to the current crisis by failing to promote reconciliation with the country's Sunni minority.

The militant offensive spearheaded by the Islamic State extremist group has tapped into the Sunni community's grievances with Maliki's Shia-led government. Sunnis complain of being marginalized and unfairly targeted by the security forces.

After its initial blitz, the insurgent onslaught has eased since overrunning most of Iraq's Sunni-dominated areas. But fighting rages daily on several fronts across the country.

One of the most active zones is the Sunni-dominated region west of Baghdad, where on Monday a mortar shell landed near Iraqi troops during a raid on the village of Karma, killing Iraqi army 6th Division commander Maj. Gen. Najim Abdullah Ali.

Ali was overseeing the raid when the round exploded nearby, said army spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan Ibrahim.

Al-Maliki lamented Ali's death, calling him a "holy warrior" who was "martyred in the battlefield as he was fighting the terrorists."

Hard-line Sunni fighters seized control of the city of Fallujah, near Karma, and parts of the provincial capital of Ramadi in January. The government has since reasserted its control of Ramadi, but Fallujah remains in insurgent hands.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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