Iraqi Sunni speaker ousted

By Xinhua

Baghdad : Iraq's legislators have voted to remove the outspoken Sunni speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani.

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The Shia deputy speaker Khaled al-Attiyah was Monday chosen to preside over parliament temporarily after the removal of al-Mashhadani, Iraqi state television al-Iraqiya reported.

Chief of the Shia Sadr bloc in parliament, Nassar al-Rubaie, confirmed that parliament held a closed session and made the decision to remove al-Mashhadani.

He said The Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni Arab bloc to which al-Mashhadani belongs, also vowed to present its candidate within a week.

Al-Mashhadani, who will retain his seat in parliament, was urged to leave after he was alleged that he ordered his bodyguards to assault a Shia lawmaker Sunday when a loud brawl occurred between them outside the parliament hall.

The Sunni speaker is a controversial figure in Iraqi political arena for his behaviour. Last year, Shia and Kurdish lawmakers threatened to remove him following his remarks that Iraqis who killed US soldiers were heroes.

The US government is pressing the Iraqi politicians to meet a series of political benchmarks in parliament, such as a revenue-sharing oil law, provincial elections and constitutional reforms.

However, analysts said parliament is divided and weak and the ouster of al-Mashhadani seemed to verify the point.

Al-Mashhadani's removal coincides with the visit of British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, who is expected to replace outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair on June 27.

Brown arrived in Baghdad for a one-day visit. He met Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani in Baghdad and vowed unchanged support for Iraq.

Brown told reporters that his visit was to "listen and learn" to make an assessment of what's happening on the ground.

A British embassy spokeswoman told reporters that Brown made clear to Maliki and Talabani that "British support for the Iraqi government is unchanged."

Talabani's office also issued a statement, saying Brown "stressed the continuous support of his country to Iraq to achieve democracy, reconciliation and economic development."