Side issues keeping parliament from war progress

( LatWp ) - Iraq's parliamentarians, under pressure from Washington to prove political progress that might expedite an end to the war, demonstrated Monday their determination to take up issues important to them: They voted to oust their speaker for rude behavior.

Declaring the speaker's latest outburst the final straw, the Shiite-led body decided to request that Mahmoud Mashadani, a Sunni, be ousted. The move will not affect the balance of power in the lawmaking body, which requires that he be replaced by another Sunni. However, it pointed up again the parliament's focus on internal squabbles rather than on national laws deemed crucial to bringing stability to Iraq.

As lawmakers gathered in a closed session to debate Mashadani's behavior, which has included slapping a fellow lawmaker and cursing him on the floor of parliament, the U.S. military said that violence had cost the lives of three Americans and destroyed a major piece of infrastructure.

In addition, at least 17 Iraqis were found dead across the capital, said police.

Three U.S. soldiers died when a suicide bomber blew himself up beneath a highway overpass on which a U.S. checkpoint was stationed south of Baghdad, said the military. The attack occurred Sunday night, and the deaths were announced Monday.

North of Baghdad in Diyala province, insurgents blew up a strategic bridge in the provincial capital, Baqouba, on Monday. There were no immediate casualties reported in the attack, which targeted a bridge used by U.S. and other foreign troops in the city.

The United Nations delivered a dismal report on the status of the U.S.-led effort to quell Iraq's violence by putting tens of thousands of additional soldiers in Baghdad and neighboring areas, including Diyala.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the troop ``surge'' had fallen short of its goals to protect civilians, reign in militia fighters or quell sectarian warfare. He singled out increasing mortar and rocket attacks on the heavily fortified Green Zone, where the U.S. Embassy, Iraqi parliament and many government installations are based, as a sign of how things are worsening.

The United Nations headquarters also is in the Green Zone, and the secretary-general said that because of incoming fire, staff had been moved to ``more hardened'' facilities. The only long-term solution was construction of a new headquarters to withstand the increasingly larger-caliber rockets being fired into the Green Zone, he said in a regular quarterly report to the Security Council.

The parliament decision to oust Mashadani came a day after a lawmaker from the leading Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, accused the speaker's guards of insulting and assaulting him during a disagreement. It was unclear what triggered the argument with the legislator, Friyad Mohammed, but it became the latest in a series of incidents that politicians said illustrate Mashadani's erratic behavior.

Last month, the speaker lunged at and slapped another Sunni lawmaker and muttered ``Damn you!'' after a disagreement in parliament.

In January, after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the upcoming launch of the security plan, Mashadani openly chided the plan and joined in a raucous debate that became so heated that state-run television stopped airing it.

Mashadani, a physician who was jailed under the regime of Saddam Hussein, at times has abruptly ended parliament sessions early and is seen by some lawmakers as being rude and dismissive.

``Inside sessions, he always talks and shouts. No one can run a parliament like this,'' said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker. ``He has done many things wrong, and this was the final straw.''

Members of Mashadani's own Tawafuk bloc did not object to offering up a replacement within a week to avoid having the issue spin out of control.

``We do not want this issue to assume a political dimension, and we do not want it to spread to the Iraqi street or to create a crisis,'' said Saleem Abdullah Juboori of the Tawafuk bloc.

He said Mashadani, who was on holiday, would retain his seat in the 275-member parliament.

The legislature has been beset by sectarian and personal dissent since its formation after Iraq's national elections in December 2005. Recently, it has come under increased pressure from Washington to take up laws on sharing national oil wealth, returning ousted Baath Party officials to government positions and tackling constitutional reform issues.

None of the so-called benchmarks has been brought before parliament, however, and lawmakers are tentatively scheduled to take a two-month summer break from July 1 through the end of August.

Othman said that given the work yet to be done, they might take only one month off, or less.

``I'm afraid parliament is working slowly, and not according to expectations at all,'' he said, suggesting that Washington lawmakers come and sit in on a few sessions to see the problem for themselves.

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