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Sunday 21 September 2014

Iraq presidential vote delayed

Published 23/07/2014 | 12:09

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A checkpoint captured by the Islamic State group from the Iraqi army, at the main entrance to Rawah (AP)

Iraq's parliament has agreed to postpone a vote for a new president by a day as the extremist Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Baghdad last night that killed 31 people, mainly civilians.

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The delay is in response to a request from the Kurdish political bloc, parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri said.

With president Jalal Talabani's term set to expire, the vote for his successor is part of broader negotiations over forming a new government. At least 95 candidates are thought to be running.

The Sunni militants' capture of large areas of Iraq last month, including the second-largest city Mosul, plunged the country into its worst crisis since the withdrawal of US troops in 2011.

Calls are intensifying for prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to step down, with many accusing him of trying to monopolise power and alienating the Sunni minority, but the prime minister, who has held office since 2006, has vowed to remain in his post.

Despite the crisis, law makers have struggled to agree on a new government after April elections in which Mr al-Maliki's bloc secured the most seats. After several delays, law makers elected a moderate Sunni as parliament speaker on July 15, the first step in the process.

"The parliament is meeting again in order to select the president of the republic in accordance with the constitutional and legal procedures that allow any citizen to run," Mr al-Maliki said in his weekly address to parliament. "We hope that the parliament will succeed in choosing the president."

Mr Talabani, who suffered a stroke in late 2012, returned to the country on Saturday after more than 18 months abroad for medical treatment.

Two names have emerged as front-runners to succeed him - former deputy prime minister Barham Saleh and the Kirkuk provincial governor Najimaldin Karim.

Since 2003, Iraq's political parties have agreed to assign the position of president to a Kurd, prime minister to a Shiite and speaker of parliament to a Sunni.

The next president will task someone with forming a new government, and whoever can assemble a majority coalition will become the next prime minister.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State group claimed a deadly attack on a checkpoint near a revered Shiite shrine in the heart of the capital yesterday as worshippers awaited security checks before visiting the site during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Another 58 people were wounded in the attack in the central Kazimiyah district.

In a statement posted online, the Islamic State group said the attack was "in response to the hostility of the (Shiite-led) government" of Mr al-Maliki and his "criminal militias, who spare no effort in fighting Islam and Muslims".

In the western province of Anbar, deadly clashes erupted today between government security forces and militants outside the city of Ramadi, killing eight militants, said Abdul-Karim al-Ani, a doctor at city's main hospital.

Meanwhile, a report released by New York-based Human Rights Watch accused the Iraqi military of indiscriminately attacking alleged militant targets in air strikes in several cities, killing at least 75 civilians and wounding hundreds.

Press Association

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