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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 April, 2005, 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK
Iraqi parliament elects speaker
Hajim al-Hassani a few days before his election
Hassani previously turned down the chance to stand as speaker
Iraq's divided interim parliament has finally elected a speaker, clearing a major political hurdle on the way to forming a government.

Casting secret ballots, the members chose Hajim al-Hassani, a Sunni Arab, as the speaker and picked a Shia Muslim and a Kurd as his deputies.

More than two months have passed since Iraqis elected the national assembly.

A session of the chamber fell apart on Tuesday as members argued over a suitable Sunni candidate.

Correspondents say the choice of a Sunni is aimed at reaching out to Iraq's second-largest community, which has been largely alienated since the US-led invasion.

The assembly is due to reconvene on Wednesday when it is expected to name a new president, tipped to be Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani.

US critic

Mr Hassani, the current industry minister, was an outspoken critic of the recent US-led military offensive against militants in Falluja.

The Iraqi people have proven that they can overcome the political crisis
Hajim al-Hassani
new Iraqi speaker

He previously declined the post, saying he would only serve as speaker as a last resort.

"The Iraqi people have proven that they can overcome the political crisis that has plagued the country for the last two months," he told reporters after his election.

The minister received the largest share of votes cast on Sunday: 215 to 157 for his nearest rival, Hussain al-Shahristani, a Shia Muslim former nuclear scientist.

Mr Shahristani became a deputy speaker along with Kurdish candidate Aref Taifour, who won 96 votes, according to figures obtained by the Associated Press news agency.

Once a president and deputy presidents are chosen, they will have two weeks to form a government.

The assembly itself will have the job of writing a new constitution by mid-August which will pave the way for new elections and permanent state institutions.

Iraqi politicians battled to break their deadlock

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