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As Iraq teeters, legislators squabble

BAGHDAD — Members of Iraq’s Parliament were divided Monday over when to hold its next session, potentially delaying the formation of a new government for weeks despite the threat from extremists who have seized control of a large chunk of the country and declared the establishment of an Islamic state.

The acting speaker of Parliament initially announced that the body would not meet again until mid-August because there was no agreement among factions over the top leadership posts, particularly the prime minister, with incumbent Nouri al-Maliki facing a campaign to replace him.

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But after an uproar over the long delay, speaker Mahdi al-Hafidh said Monday night there was a preliminary agreement among lawmakers to meet Sunday.

But even that appeared uncertain, since Hafidh added that an official announcement of the date would not come until Tuesday.

With politicians struggling to even agree on when to meet, it was hard to see how they could quickly forge a compromise on the much thornier issue of a new government.

The impasse, coupled with the military’s sluggish counteroffensive, underlined just how difficult a task Iraqis face as they try to keep their country from fracturing along sectarian and ethnic lines.

The military suffered a new setback in its battle with the extremist advance Monday when the top commander of the armed forces battling militants in the west was killed by a mortar strike.

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The United States, which withdrew the last American troops from Iraq in 2011, and other world powers have pressed for the quick formation of a new government, as has Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric, the revered Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

They are calling for an inclusive government that will draw support among Iraq’s Sunni minority away from the insurgency, led by a radical Al Qaeda breakaway group called the Islamic State.

On Monday, a mortar attack killed the commander of the Iraqi army’s sixth division, Major General Najim Abdullah Ali, while he was overseeing a raid on the Anbar village of Karma, army spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan Ibrahim said.

Maliki lamented Ali’s death, calling him a ‘‘holy warrior’’ who was ‘‘martyred in the battlefield as he was fighting the terrorists.’’

In Baghdad, a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle packed with explosives into a checkpoint in the Shi’ite neighborhood of Kazimiyah, killing five police officers and three civilians, a police official said. He said 16 people were wounded.

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States was disappointed that Iraq’s leaders haven’t moved more quickly to unify the country.

Earnest said difficult steps must be taken to solve the problem and ‘‘reaching those agreements and making those difficult decisions are necessary for Iraq to survive.’’

Lawmakers met last week for the new Parliament’s first session since April elections, but the meeting ended without agreeing on a new prime minister, president, and speaker of Parliament.

The legislature had been expected to meet again Tuesday, but that session was called off since no progress had been made over the past week untangling the political situation.

The main point of contention right now is the post of prime minister, which holds most of the power in Iraq.

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