UN warns Iraq political crisis threat to fight against IS

The United Nations warned today that political turmoil that has repeatedly delayed efforts to change the Iraqi cabinet is a threat to the country's war against the Islamic State group.

Iraq is battling to retake more ground from IS, which seized large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, and Washington has also expressed concern that political disputes could distract from efforts to combat the jihadists.

Instead of voting on a new cabinet lineup, lawmakers tried to sack the parliament speaker and his deputies yesterday, while the two previous sessions ended in a sit-in and a fistfight among MPs.

"The only party that benefits from the political divisions and chaos as well as the weakening of the state and its institutions is Daesh. We should not allow this to happen," Gyorgy Busztin, the acting head of the UN Iraq mission, said in a statement, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

"The political leaders of Iraq should place the high national interest over any other consideration and work relentlessly to ensure the political process produces solutions that would lead Iraq out of its crisis and strengthen the state and its institutions. Only through unity can Iraq win," Busztin said.

Abadi has called for the cabinet of party-affiliated ministers to be replaced by a government of technocrats, but has faced significant resistance from the powerful parties that rely on control of ministries for patronage and funds.

Yesterday, MPs voted to sack parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi and his deputies, but the speaker says the session at which the vote was held lacked a quorum and was therefore invalid.

An "emergency" session on Wednesday ended with lawmakers shouting, shoving and throwing punches in the parliament chamber, leading Juburi to call a recess.

Abadi presented a first list of cabinet nominees at the end of March, but the political blocs put forward their own candidates, and most of the premier's original list was replaced on a second presented to MPs on Tuesday.

Some MPs demanded the opportunity to vote on Abadi's original list -- from which at least two candidates had already withdrawn -- but the session was adjourned Tuesday without a vote.

Dozens of lawmakers then began a sit-in and spent the night in parliament.

Iraqi ministries have for years been shared out between powerful political parties that run them as their personal fiefdoms, relying on them for patronage and funds.