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Iraqi lawmakers fail to elect new president amid boycott

FILE - Populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, speaks during a press conference in Najaf, Iraq, Nov. 18, 2021. Iraqi lawmakers failed to elect a new h...

FILE - Populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, speaks during a press conference in Najaf, Iraq, Nov. 18, 2021. Iraqi lawmakers failed to elect a new h...

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi lawmakers failed to elect a new head of state Monday, as key factions foiled the attempt by boycotting the parliament session.

A two-thirds quorum of the legislature’s 329 members is required for an electoral session. Monday’s vote could not be held as lawmakers, many of them allied with powerful Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, stayed away. Only 58 lawmakers showed up.

The failure to elect a president reflects the deep divisions among Iraq's political factions that have only grown since the Oct. 10 parliament elections, whose results have been rejected by political groups supported by neighboring Iran.

Iraqi politicians have so far failed to agree on a compromise candidate for the country’s top post, and the delay Monday raised concerns of a presidential vacuum that would also prevent the appointment of a prime minister.

Political analyst Ihsan al-Shammari said the failure to elect a president is a prelude to political crises that will continue to rage in Iraq until a consensus can be reached.

“Continuing to violate the constitution is an indication of the depth of the political differences between the political blocs and political forces in Iraq,” he said.

With no quorum, parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi kept the session open without scheduling a new date for a vote to elect a new president.

The boycott by al-Sadr was announced after Iraq’s Supreme Court temporarily suspended the nomination of front-runner Hoshyar Zebari, whose presidential bid is supported by al-Sadr. The high court cited pending corruption charges against the veteran Kurdish politician and former foreign minister.

The 2016 charges against Zebari, for which he was never convicted, stem from his time as finance minister, when he was dismissed from the job over alleged graft. Zebari on Sunday denied the charges and said he respected the court's decision to temporarily suspend his candidacy until the issue is resolved.

According to Iraq’s post-war convention, the largely ceremonial post of president should be held by a member of the country’s Kurdish minority, the prime minister must be a Muslim Shiite and the parliament speaker a Muslim Sunni. The other front-runner for the presidency is incumbent Barham Saleh.

Sadr, who heads the largest parliamentary bloc with 73 seats, announced the boycott Saturday and was followed by al-Halbousi, who heads a bloc of 51 seats. The 31-seat Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) then followed suit. Zebari represents the KDP party and has denied the corruption allegations.

Outgoing President Barham Saleh represents the KDP’s main rival in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).