Iraq’s new parliament put off its next session for five weeks on Monday, extending the country’s political paralysis amid a Sunni Islamist insurgency which claimed the life of an army general near Baghdad.
Citing the politicians’ failure to reach “understanding and agreement” on nominations for the top three posts in government, the office of acting speaker Mehdi al-Hafidh said parliament would not meet again until August 12.
Putting off the work of reaching consensus is a slap in the face of efforts by Iraq’s Shi’ite clergy, the United States, the United Nations and Iran, who have all urged the swift formation of an inclusive government to hold the country together.
“We’re looking at a dire situation on the ground, which is why it’s so important that things move forward urgently on the ground,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington in reaction to the delay.
With no signs that Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will abandon his bid for a third term, his Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish opponents warn there is a risk that Iraq will fragment along ethnic and sectarian lines.
“Things are moving faster than the politicians can make decisions,” a senior Shi’ite member of parliament told Reuters.
The Islamic State — an al-Qaida offshoot — and a patchwork of Sunni insurgents are holding territory they seized in northern and western Iraq, the majority of it taken last month.
Kurds, who run their own autonomous region in northern Iraq, have taken advantage of the chaos to expand their territory.
The fighting is taking a heavy toll. The United Nations said last week that more than 2,400 Iraqis had been killed in June alone, making the month by far the deadliest since the height of sectarian warfare during the U.S. “surge” offensive in 2007.
A senior Iraqi general was killed in fighting with insurgents near Baghdad on Monday, as the army fights to hold insurgents back from the capital.
Major General Negm Abdullah Ali, commander of the army’s sixth division responsible for defending part of Baghdad, was killed just 10 miles northwest of the capital.
A few hours later, four policemen and three civilians were killed by a suicide bomber at a checkpoint in the mainly Shi’ite Kadhimiya district of northern Baghdad.