STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.
When Americans say Iraq needs a political solution, they are casting a spotlight on Iraq's government. The parliament is supposed to produce many elements of that political solution. And so far lawmakers are long on politics, short on solutions. Lawmakers are divided by sectarian rivalries, when they show up at all, and U.S. officials are not sure if lawmakers will move to end the sectarian violence.
NPR's Jamie Tarabay begins our coverage in Baghdad.
JAMIE TARABAY: This was the scene in Parliament last week.
Ms. SHATHA AL-MOUSAWI (Shiite Lawmaker): (Foreign language spoken)
TARABAY: Shiite lawmaker Shatha al-Mousawi was complaining bitterly about her recent visit with displaced Shiites from Diyala province, expelled from their homes because of sectarian violence.
It's intolerable that the government allows this bloodshed to happen, she says, demanding the prime minister and other top officials be summoned to parliament to respond.
This was how the speaker of parliament reacted to her emotional diatribe.
Mr. MAHMOUD AL-MASHHADANI (Speaker of Parliament): (Foreign language spoken)
(Soundbite of laughter)
TARABAY: Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni, claimed he was laughing to conceal his pain at the situation the Shiites of Diyala found themselves in. But Shiite parliamentarians openly scolded him for his seemingly coldhearted reaction, and he in turn began attacking them.
Mr. AL-MASHHADANI: (Through translator) Three-quarters of those sitting here are responsible for the displacements and the sectarian killings, and now you're calling yourselves patriots?
TARABAY: Pounding his gavel, Mashhadani then declared the session adjourned. He did not consult his two deputies before making the decision. Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman says Mashhadani then got into a physical confrontation with a fellow parliamentarian from his own party.
Mr. MAHMOUD OTHMAN (Kurdish Lawmaker): Yeah, slapped him in here. From his own (unintelligible) I think they had a bit of a...
TARABAY: In the cafeteria?
Mr. OTHMAN: Yeah, and they were going out, and yes, he slapped.
TARABAY: Critics both inside and outside parliament - Shiite and Sunni - blame Mashhadani for the legislature's failure to move on any critical issue. Othman says Mashhadani and his deputies allow chaos to rule the house.
Mr. OTHMAN: They should have more experience in this job. They should know how to control the sessions. When you say 11, say 11. And they never (unintelligible) themselves till once. So nobody cares.
TARABAY: No major issue has yet made it to the parliament floor - the draft oil law, the review of the ban on former members of Saddam's Baath Party, amendments to the constitution. The procedure calls for a first reading of each bill, like in most other parliaments around the world, and that has yet to happen here.
So where are we with the de-Baathification and the oil law?
Mr. OTHMAN: Nothing is here.
TARABAY: There hasn't been a first reading?
Mr. OTHMAN: No. No.
TARABAY: For either of those?
Mr. OTHMAN: No, no, no. You see, petrol, de-Baathification and constitution changes - they have never - they have not yet been in parliament.
TARABAY: So they haven't - they've been on the agenda, but they've never been...
Mr. OTHMAN: Not yet, none. Not even.
TARABAY: They haven't even made the agenda?
Mr. OTHMAN: Not even the agenda. So when they don't come, they don't put them on the agenda.
TARABAY: It's unlikely the bills will be debated before Iraqi lawmakers break for their two-month summer vacation in June. The prospect of such a long holiday in the midst of political crisis, both here and in Washington, has infuriated U.S. officials and politicians. But Mahmoud Othman says Iraqi lawmakers are already taking off more time than U.S. Congress members know about.
Mr. OTHMAN: So every month we work two weeks.
TARABAY: And then there's...
Mr. OTHMAN: That's another point, you see, people should know about. They don't talk about it usually, so we are working half of the time. And so it is two, three hours a day, two weeks a month, and then there is a holiday. So it's sort of a disaster, you know.
TARABAY: Lawmaker Shatha al-Moussawi says U.S. objections to the vacation schedule here have only made matters worse.
Ms. AL-MOUSSAWI: I think it's this way, it gives a wrong message to Iraqis. It shows clearly that we don't have any control on our country and we receive orders from America.
TARABAY: In the streets of Baghdad, the Iraqi parliament's reputation is at rock bottom. Short-order cook Ahmed Dawood...
Mr. AHMED DAWOOD (Short-Order Cook): (Through translator) Our parliament is a failure, because they force us to accept the least of everything.
TARABAY: Sweating as he flips hamburgers on a grill, Dawood says the lawmakers are only out for what they can get. And he prays for the day they've had enough, so ordinary Iraqis can bring in others who really will help the people.
Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.
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