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After Months Of Discord, Iraq's Parliament Picks Speaker

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Iraq's parliament has picked a prominent Sunni Arab as its new speaker, filling a post that had been vacant for four months due to political squabbling that had delayed legislative business.

The previous speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, stepped down in December after widespread complaints about his brash style and insults he threw at fellow politicians.

Mashhadani's resignation revealed fissures among Sunni lawmakers as Iraq emerges from the sectarian warfare triggered by the 2003 U.S. invasion between Sunni Arabs who dominated the country under Saddam Hussein and majority Shi'ite Muslims.

Ayad al-Samarai, leader in parliament of the largest Sunni bloc, the Accordance Front, was picked as the new speaker, an influential post, by 153 deputies out of the 232 present on April 19.

"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, said.

"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.

Under an unwritten agreement to share top offices among Iraq's three main communities, the country's president is a Kurd, its prime minister a Shi'ite Arab and the speaker of parliament a Sunni Arab.

The flap over selecting a speaker has had larger implications for Iraq, which has yet to pass major legislation needed in the oil sector and for political reconciliation.

It also delayed passage of the 2009 budget by many weeks.

Iraq, which gets 95 percent of its government revenue from oil exports, has had to slash its spending plans for this year just when it desperately needs funds to rebuild from conflict.