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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

First Iraqi Parliament Convenes Amid Attacks

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's new parliament met for the first time on Wednesday more than six weeks after historic polls, but rival blocs failed to agree on a government and al-Qaida insurgents attacked the meeting with a mortar barrage.

Windows rattled and lights flickered in the building in the fortified Green Zone compound where officials had gathered for the Iraqi National Assembly meeting as the mortars struck, and warning sirens wailed outside, but no damage or casualties were reported. Al-Qaida's wing in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack.

Politicians said the parliament session represented a step forwards despite their failure to appoint a government.

"We are part of history," said Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum, a candidate for oil minister. "This assembly has to succeed in charting the principles of a democratic, united Iraq."

The inaugural meeting was ceremonial, beginning with readings from the Koran. Without a government in place, the parliament cannot yet tackle drafting legislation.

The Shiite Islamist alliance that won 140 seats -- just over half of the 275-member National Assembly -- and the Kurdish coalition that came second with 75 seats are deadlocked in negotiations over a government that have dragged on for weeks.

There is tentative agreement that Ibrahim Jaafari of the Shiite Dawa party will be prime minister and Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani will be president, with a Sunni Arab candidate probably being offered the job of parliament speaker.

But talks have stalled over Kurdish demands to expand their northern autonomous zone to include the strategic oil city of Kirkuk and over the fate of the Kurdish peshmerga militias, which Shiites want absorbed in Iraq's official security forces. The Kurds also want guarantees Iraq will remain secular.

Jaafari said it could be days before a deal was reached. One Shiite official described recent political bargaining as "arguments of the deaf."

Under Iraq's interim constitution, parliament must agree on a president and two vice presidents by a two-thirds majority. Those three will then appoint a prime minister. The assembly will also draft a permanent constitution.

The delay in forming a government has angered many Iraqis after more than eight million people defied suicide bombers and mortar attacks to vote in the Jan. 30 elections. They want urgent action to improve security and restore basic services.

In Basra in southern Iraq, protesters gathered Wednesday outside a British military installation to demand the release of relatives being held in British-run prisons.

Also Wednesday, a suicide car bomb exploded at an Iraqi army checkpoint in Baquba, killing three Iraqi soldiers and wounding eight people, police said. Al-Qaida's wing in Iraq also claimed the Baquba attack in an Internet statement.

The elections were a cornerstone of U.S. plans to hand more responsibility to Iraqi politicians and security forces so foreign troops can eventually leave. But many U.S. allies are cutting troop numbers faster than Washington had hoped.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, one of the staunchest allies of U.S. President George W. Bush, said Rome would start to pull its 3,000 troops out of Iraq in September. Berlusconi said he was also in talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair about a total exit strategy from Iraq, adding that people in both countries -- where the 2003 U.S.-led invasion was unpopular -- wanted their troops to return home.

Several other countries are pulling troops out of Iraq, including Poland, the Netherlands and Ukraine.