BAGHDAD, Oct 11 –Iraq’s parliament will convene this week for a session meant to elect a new president, the speaker’s office said today, but divisions which have led to a year-long political deadlock may still obstruct progress.

Lawmakers will meet tomorrow, more than a year since an Oct. 10, 2021 parliamentary election in which populist Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr emerged as the biggest winner but failed to rally enough support to form a government.

Sadr has withdrawn his 73 parliamentarians from the assembly and in August announced he would quit politics, prompting the worst violence in Baghdad for years when his loyalists stormed a government palace and fought rival Shi’ite groups, most of whom are backed by Iran and have heavily armed paramilitary wings.

Sadr had initially sought to form a parliamentary majority by allying himself with Kurdish and Sunni Muslim parties, excluding the Iran-backed Shi’ite groups.

The presidency is a largely ceremonial position, but the vote for a new president is a key step in the political process, since the president invites the nominee of the largest parliamentary bloc to form a government.

Under a power-sharing system designed to avoid sectarian conflict, Iraq’s president is a Kurd, its prime minister a Shi’ite and its parliament speaker a Sunni.

Disagreement among the main Kurdish parties that run the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq has prevented the selection of a president.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party has held the presidency since 2003. Its rival, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which claimed the largest number of Kurdish votes by far, are insisting on their own candidate.

A lawmaker from the Kurdistan Democratic Party said no agreement with Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party has been reached yet.

“Talks are still going on with the PUK and we need more time. No session should happen before we reach an agreement,” Mahma Khalil told Reuters.

“No agreement has been reached as of this moment and it looks (like a) thorny issue,” said a senior PUK member Gayath al-Sorchi. — Reuters