(CNSNews.com) – Two weeks after Secretary of State John Kerry visited Iraq to urge the speedy establishment of a new and more inclusive government in order to confront the “existential” jihadist threat, the country’s parliament on Monday delayed its key session for a second time, pushing it back this time by more than a month.
Following elections in April, the constitutional deadline for the process of setting up a government was July 1, but lawmakers that day postponed the session for a week, after Sunni and Kurdish members walked out in protest.
The parliament reconvened on Monday, but then decided yet again to delay the session – which is meant to elect a prime minister, president and parliamentary speaker – until August 12.
The last time Iraqis went to the polls, four years ago, it took politicians eight months of wrangling to form a government. With the threat posed by the territorial advances made by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL), the U.S. and others say Iraq cannot afford a repeat of that scenario.
Many minority Sunni and Kurds accuse Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of marginalizing non-Shi’ites and want him to go – but Maliki, who controls the biggest single bloc of lawmakers, wants a third term.
U.S. officials express their frustration with Maliki in private, but the administration publicly stresses that it is up to Iraqis to choose their leaders.
“We’ve consistently said it’s up to the Iraqi people and only the Iraqi people to determine their future leadership,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday.
“We hope that Iraq’s leaders will move forward with extreme urgency, and that’s what we’ve been calling for.”
On the decision to delay the parliamentary session, Psaki expressed hope that that may change.
“We’ve seen the statements,” she said. “Our view is that’s not set in stone, that they still have the ability to move forward more quickly than what they outlined this morning.”
Psaki described the security situation as “dire” and said the urgent setting up of the new government is essential to Iraq’s “long-term success.”
ISIS-led Sunni militants over the past month captured Iraq’s second city, Mosul, and other areas, and now control large parts of the country north and west of Baghdad where the group has declared a “caliphate.” Amid the chaos, calls for Kurdish independence in the north are also growing.
Despite aid from the U.S. in the form of military advisors, material support from Iran and Russia, and the mobilization of pro-government Shi’ite militias, Iraq’s armed forces are struggling to make gains against the jihadists, a situation underscored Monday when a senior Iraqi general was killed in enemy shelling west of Baghdad.
When Kerry visited Baghdad two weeks ago, he did not pull his punches about the nature of the threat to Iraq’s very existence posed by the ISIS-led Sunni insurgency – and the need for a government to be formed quickly.
“This is a critical moment for Iraq’s future,” he said on June 23. “It is a moment of decision for Iraq’s leaders, and it’s a moment of great urgency. Iraq faces an existential threat, and Iraq’s leaders have to meet that threat with the incredible urgency that it demands.”
“The very future of Iraq depends on choices that will be made in the next days and weeks,” Kerry said. “And the future of Iraq depends primarily on the ability of Iraq’s leaders to come together and take a stand united against ISIL – not next week, not next month, but now.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told a press briefing Monday that Vice-President Joe Biden and other officials have stressed to the Iraqis in recent weeks the need to move quickly on the government formation process, to face the threat posed by ISIS.
“We’ve also made clear that the president has made clear that additional military involvement will only be done in coordination with tangible commitments from Iraq’s leaders to pursue a more inclusive governing agenda,” he said.