BAGHDAD, Iraq - Sunnis and Kurds walked out of the Iraqi Parliament’s first session on Tuesday, jeopardizing efforts at putting together a unity government to confront a jihadi-led offensive that threatens to rip Iraq apart.
The Parliament had convened as pressure mounted on the Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step down amid a crisis that has seen jihadi-led insurgents capture much of northern Iraq.
The legislators had convened for the first time since April 30 elections in which Maliki and his State of Law coalition won many votes, and as the country struggles to deal with Sunni insurgents led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who have captured entire cities over the past three weeks and vow to march on Baghdad.
Meanwhile the United Nations said that the death toll for June, in all of Iraq except Anbar province which is the country’s largest and entirely in the hands of the insurgents, was 2,417 people, three times more than 799 killed in May, before the insurgents began their advance. Most of those killed in June – 1,500 – were civilians.
The government declared a national holiday as the parliament convened in Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone, with many shops and businesses in the capital remaining closed and security forces out in large numbers, manning checkpoints and on patrol.
The United States and Britain have both urged Maliki to quickly establish a unity government with robust roles for the Kurds and Sunnis, both large minorities who want Maliki to step down. The beleaguered prime minister has stubbornly rejected forming a salvation government, and has ruled out stepping down.
Although the walkout was not anticipated, the lead-up to the opening of parliament had not been propitious.
On Monday, the leaders of the Shiite National Alliance, which includes Maliki, failed to agree on a candidate for the premiership, while vowing to actively participate in the first parliament session.
The same day, Iraq’s former prime minister Ayad Allawi, who heads the Watanya Sunni bloc, called on members and other Sunni leaders to boycott the vote on electing a new prime minister and inclusive government.
Meanwhile MPs from the autonomous Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq expressed mixed feelings about their safety in Baghdad. Maliki has accused the Kurds of instigating the current turmoil, and some Shiite militias have been venting their anger at the Kurds, who have denied having to do anything with the trouble.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has vehemently opposed another term for Maliki, indicating it may pull out of the political process – or break out for independence – unless the premier steps down and a unity government takes his place.
Kurdish MPs in the Iraqi parliament say they do not trust the security situation in Baghdad and believe the Green Zone is no longer as safe as before.