Iraq parliament cancels session as MPs challenge speaker

Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament Salim al-Jabouri speaks during a news conference at the parliament building, in Baghdad, Iraq April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Saif Hameed (Reuters)

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's parliament canceled a session on anti-graft reforms on Saturday, state TV said, as some MPs disputed the legitimacy of the speaker to chair the meeting in an escalation of a political crisis crippling state institutions. The session is the third canceled this week as politicians bicker over a plan to overhaul Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's cabinet by bringing in technocrats in a bid to stem corruption. The session was scrapped because "parliament couldn't be secured" by the security forces, said a statement from the office of the speaker, Salim al-Jabouri. The statement was apparently referring to MPs who say Jabouri has no right to chair the session and who met on Thursday in his absence, holding a ballot to oust him. They say they have a majority in the assembly, which Jabouri disputes. Iraq, a major OPEC exporter which sits on one of the world's largest oil reserves, ranks 161th out of 168 countries on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. The dissenting MPs criticize Jabouri for not organizing a session to grill Abadi over his proposed cabinet line-up. Jabouri says it is the premier who failed to show up at the voting session he had called for on Thursday and that the quorum wasn't even reached to hold a simple debate. Both sides say they have a majority. State TV on Friday showed pictures of the assembly held by the dissenters on Thursday and counted 131 MPs. The parliament has 328 seats. Tussles between lawmakers broke out on Wednesday, a day after the first attempted vote. Abadi has warned the crisis could hamper the war against Islamic State militants who control regions in northern and western Iraq. Corruption became a major issue after global oil prices collapsed two years ago, shrinking the state budget at a time when it needed additional income to pay for war on the hardline Sunni group. (Reporting by Saif Hameed and Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Mark Potter)