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Seeking unity amid crisis, Iraqi parliament fails to agree on Maliki replacement

July 1, 2014 at 6:09 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The United Nations reported today that 2,400 Iraqis were killed in the month of June, making it the deadliest month in that country since 2007.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad today, desperate hopes for political unity were dashed, as there more signs throughout Iraq showing a nation pulling apart.

Our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, reports.

MARGARET WARNER: Finger-pointing and shouting matches dominated today’s brief first meeting of the new Iraqi Parliament.

In less than two hours, minority Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers walked out after the majority Shiites failed to agree on a new prime minister to replace Nouri al-Maliki. He’s widely blamed for alienating both Sunnis and Kurds. The deadlock further delays the formation of a new inclusive government, leaving Baghdad residents fearful as Sunni insurgents advance toward the capital.

SAMI AL-SAID, Baghdad Resident (through interpreter): A large number of the blocs will not attend the parliament session, so I don’t believe they will be able to form a government. People are now afraid. They do not know what will happen. The future of the Iraqi people is unknown.

MARGARET WARNER: Further fracturing hope of unity, Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s Kurdish region, said again he plans a referendum on independence in the coming months.

And insurgents of the newly renamed Islamic State, the former ISIL, claimed new battlefield gains, capturing the Syrian town of Boukamal near the Iraqi border.

In Washington, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, Lukman Faily, called for American airstrikes. These Sunni Islamic state fighters have seized control of a swathe of territory stretching from Northern Syria into Western Iraq. On Sunday, the group declared the establishment of an Islamic caliphate, with roots reaching back 1,400 years. It was a declaration both grandiose and brash.

A spokesman said the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has taken on a new title, Caliph Ibrahim.

ABU MUHAMMAD AL-ADNANI, ISIL Spokesman (through interpreter): Therefore, he is the imam and caliph for Muslims everywhere.

MARGARET WARNER: Today, the secretive Baghdadi made his first public statement about the caliphate in this audio recording.

ABU BAKR AL-BAGHDADI (through interpreter): Rush, oh, Muslims, to your state. Yes, it is your state. Rush, because Syria is not for the Syrians, and Iraq not for the Iraqis. Oh, Muslims everywhere, whoever is capable of performing the Immigration to the Islamic state, then let him do so.

MARGARET WARNER: Some Muslims in Baghdad are dismissive:

AMIR AL-SHIMMARI, Baghdad Resident (through interpreter): This declaration will turn out to be merely a flash in the pan, God willing, because the world is a civilized one and the countries are developed, and the announcement of the caliphate is a step backward.

MARGARET WARNER: The caliphate, Arabic for succession, was created after the death of the Prophet Mohammed in 632 A.D. The caliph was meant to be both the political and spiritual leader of all Muslims, but, as the Sunni-Shiite split quickly emerged, most caliphates that followed were dominated by Sunnis.

The powerful Umayyad dynasty, based in Damascus, for centuries ruled an empire extending eastward, north into the Caucasus, across North Africa and up the Iberian Peninsula. A later caliphate, the Abbasid, ruled from Baghdad, but was overrun in the 13th century by the Mongols.

In the 15th century, the Ottoman Turks became the preeminent Islamic power. But the last Ottoman caliph, by that time a power in name only, was deposed in 1924 by the founders of the modern Turkish state.

Osama bin Laden often referenced that event when speaking of decades of Muslim humiliation as here in his first statement after 9/11.

OSAMA BIN LADEN (through interpreter): Our nation, for 80 years, is tasting this humiliation. Its sons are being killed at holy places, getting attacked, and nobody is hearing.

MARGARET WARNER: Bin Laden and his followers denounced the Middle East map created during World War I, when the French and British Sykes-Picot Agreement carved out zones of influence into the modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Palestine.

The newly declared Islamic state is intent on smashing all that. This English-language propaganda video shows its militants dissolving the border between Syria and Iraq with commentary from a Chilean-born fighter.

ABU SAFFIYA, ISIL Militant: We don’t recognize it and we will never recognize it. There is no nationality. We are Muslims. There’s only one country. Inshallah we will have only one imam, only one caliph…

MARGARET WARNER: Al-Qaida’s leadership disavowed the Islamic State earlier this year in a dispute between Baghdadi and bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahri.

ISIL had been the latest incarnation of al-Qaida’s franchise that took root in Iraq after the U.S. invasion of 2003. Now it is aiming to eclipse al-Qaida in reach, assets, manpower, and lethality.