An influential Iraqi Shiite cleric on Friday urged lawmakers to quickly resume parliament sessions, so they do not exceed the time limit given for the formation of a new government, DPA reported.
The new parliament held its first session last Monday after three months of political stalemate following the March 7 elections. But the session recessed after some 20 minutes until an unspecified date.
Cleric Abdel-Mahdi al-Karbalai, a confidant of revered religious leader
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, urged the political blocs to "intensify discussion and speed up reaching an agreement to help finish the three stages that will lead to the formation of a government."
The new parliament has a maximum of 15 days following the first session to elect a speaker and two deputies, and 30 days to elect a new president for the country, who will then invite the head of the largest bloc to form the new government.
"Selection of new ministers should be based on efficiency, integrity and ability to perform, not on belonging to a certain party... in order to form a strong government, capable of enforcing security and stability," al-Karbalai told thousands gathered at the Imam Hussein mosque in
Karbala for Friday prayers.
Political tension followed the election results, which showed that former prime minister Iyad Allawi's secular Sunni Iraqiya List had won 91 seats in the 325-member parliament, beating the rival State of Law coalition of incumbent Premier Nuri al-Maliki by just two seats.
Both Allawi and al-Maliki are competing to head the future government. Allawi insists he has the right to form a new government because his bloc won the most seats.
But al-Maliki argues that he now has the largest bloc in the parliament with 159 deputies, after forming the Shiite-dominated National Alliance with Ammar al-Hakim's Iraqi National List. That total, however, is still four seats short of a majority.
Al-Sistani, the country's most revered Shiite cleric, had earlier on Friday denied reports of his involvement in the formation of the National Alliance.
His spokesman said that the cleric does not support a certain candidate, and only calls for forming a government that would be capable of solving the country's problems.