Page last updated at 15:43 GMT, Sunday, 19 April 2009 16:43 UK

New speaker for Iraq parliament

Ayad al-Samarrai, file pic from November 2008
Samarrai is a senior figure from parliament's largest Sunni bloc

Members of Iraq's parliament have elected a new speaker, ending months of dispute about who should fill the post.

Ayad al-Samarrai, who is from the main Sunni Arab alliance, won 153 of 232 votes cast, and promised to work for national unity.

Politicians had agreed to reserve the position of speaker for a Sunni Arab, but Mr Samarrai had failed to win a big enough majority in a previous vote.

Parliament has been without a speaker since last December.

The previous holder of the post, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, stepped down following criticism of his abrasive style.

New hope

After the vote that approved him as the new speaker, Mr Samarrai said Iraq's parliament needed a "process of reform" that would allow competing parliamentary blocs to work together more productively.

"The process of [parliamentary] oversight is not a means of weakening the executive authority but of strengthening it," the AFP news agency reported him as saying.

Correspondents say his selection opens the way for parliament to deal with crucial reforms that have been on hold since Mr Mashhadani stepped down.

"Today we finished a complicated problem which has lasted for months and thank God has been settled in this democratic manner," the acting speaker, Khalid al-Attiya, told Reuters news agency.

"And we hope that the new era for the elected president [of parliament] will be full of achievements in order to allow parliament to rise to its responsibilities," he said.

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