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Iraq parliament elects Sunni lawmaker Al-Halbousi as speaker, breaking deadlock

SULAIMANIYA, Iraq: Iraqi lawmakers have elected a Sunni Arab as speaker of parliament, the first step in forming a new government four months after national elections.

Lawmaker Ahmed Al-Asadi says 169 lawmakers voted for Mohammed Al-Halbousi during Saturday's session and 89 voted for former defense minister Khalid Al-Obeidi.

Al-Halbousi is the former governor of Anbar province and was supported by the pro-Iran bloc inside parliament.

Born in 1981, he will be the youngest speaker of parliament in Iraq's history. His two deputies were expected to be chosen later on Saturday.
During the vote, Halbusi pleaded for "real reforms", particularly after demonstrations last week in the southern oil-rich city of Basra turned deadly as protesters demanded improved public services and railed against corruption.

Early this month, parliament held its first session but failed to proceed with the process of forming a government with two Shiite-led blocs claiming to be the biggest bloc that will be tasked to form the government.
In Iraq, the speaker of parliament is always Sunni Arab while the prime minister is picked from the country's Shiite majority and the president is a Kurd.
Parliamentary coalitions - which bring together lists of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to form the largest group - must agree on the selection of the three positions.
Basra has been at the epicentre of protests that broke out in July in the southern province before spreading to other parts of the country.
Anger in Basra flared earlier this month over a growing health crisis, after more than 30,000 people were hospitalised by pollution in the city's water supply.
Protesters flooded the streets for five days, clashing with security forces and torching the provincial headquarters, the Iranian consulate and the offices of armed groups.
Twelve demonstrators were killed in the clashes, with rights groups accusing security forces of using excessive force.

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