IRBIL, Iraq — Any hopes that Iraqi politicians would quickly form a new government to help counter the advance of Islamist gunmen and win U.S. help were dashed on Tuesday after Sunni and Kurdish members of the Iraqi parliament walked out of what was meant to be the first session since elections in April.
The failure to form a new government, even as fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria remained within striking distance of Baghdad, hardened fears that the country's leaders are unable to work together to keep Iraq from fragmenting under the pressure of an insurgency that is thriving in the nation's sectarian political climate.
U.S. officials have all but insisted on the replacement of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite seeking his third four-year term as premier, as the price for military assistance to beat back ISIS.
But whatever lobbying American officials had done seemed to have little effect. The debut of the newly elected parliament was brief and tense, with sideline insults that led to walkouts by Kurdish and Sunni legislators. With its quorum gone, the session was adjourned until next week.
That means Maliki remains in place for now as caretaker prime minister, much to the chagrin of opponents at home and abroad who criticize his governance as ineffectual.
One important Sunni critic of Maliki's leadership said there is little hope for addressing the crisis without change at the top. "If there is a new policy with a new prime minister, we will deal with them positively; otherwise, the country will go from bad to worse," said Osama al-Nujaifi, a former speaker of parliament.
Meanwhile, the head of the radical ISIS, whose fighters have overrun much of Iraq, called on Islamists throughout the world to flock to Syria and Iraq to fight for the Muslim caliphate, which ISIS announced it had formed over the weekend.