Baghdad: Kurdish politician Fuad Masum became the new president of Iraq today, in a step towards forming a new government that visiting UN chief Ban Ki-moon said must be inclusive for the country to survive.
A June onslaught on Sunni Arab areas north and west of of Baghdad led by the jihadist Islamic State group has brought Iraq to the brink of breakup, with the government struggling to assert any authority beyond its Shiite power base.
Parliament elected Masum, who served as the first prime minister of Iraq`s autonomous Kurdish region more than two decades ago, by an overwhelming majority of 211 votes to 17.
He had been almost guaranteed the job after Kurdish parties struck a late-night deal to support him.
Under an unofficial power-sharing deal, Iraq`s Kurds traditionally get the post of president.
The move could pave the way for a deal on the much more powerful post of prime minister.
The UN chief met current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and stressed the need for a broad-based government to be formed as soon as possible to save the country from collapse.
"Iraq is facing an existential threat but it can be overcome by the formation of a thoroughly inclusive government," he said at a joint news conference with Maliki. "It is critical that all political leaders fulfil their responsibilities to ensure that the government formation process falls within the constitutional timetable," he said.
The Shiite premier has accused mainstream politicians from the Sunni Arab minority of condoning the IS offensive and of "dancing in the blood" of the onslaught`s victims.
But many retort it was Maliki`s own brand of sectarian politics that brought the country to the brink of collapse, and he now faces intense domestic and foreign pressure to step aside.
He was also criticised over the army`s poor performance in the face of the lightning offensive launched in second city Mosul on June 9.
Insurgents launched a spectacular pre-dawn assault Thursday on a convoy transferring inmates convicted of terrorism charges in Taji, only 25 kilometres north of Baghdad.
According to police and medical sources, at least 60 people died in the attack, which saw militants ram a security convoy with a suicide car bomb before detonating other bombs and raking it with gunfire.