The election of a speaker clears a major hurdle that has held up the formation of a new government two months after the country’s first free elections in 50 years.

Casting secret ballots the members chose Hajim al-Hassani, a Sunni Arab, as the speaker and picked a Shia Muslim and a Kurd as his deputies.

The choice of a Sunni as speaker is aimed at reaching out to Iraq’s second largest community, which has been largely alienated since the US-led invasion.

Iraqi lawmakers however did not name the nation’s new president, tipped to be Kurdish leader Jalal Talbani.

They also still face the sticky question of who will receive key cabinet posts.

Once named, the president and his deputies have two weeks to pick a prime minister, expected to be Shi’ite politician Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Some lawmakers have expressed frustration at the slow progress, noting they have only until August 15 to write a new constitution.

Sunni Arabs are believed to make up the backbone of the troubled nation’s insurgency, and were dominant under ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

While the parliamentary speaker’s post isn’t one of the most coveted positions, lawmakers agreed they wanted a Sunni Arab to hold the job in an effort to incorporate all of Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious groups.

But they spent more than a week arguing over the candidates.

The electionis beingh seen as a step toward rebuilding confidence in the legislative body.

Mr Hassani, the current industry minister, was an outspoken critic of the US-led military offensive against militants in Falluja.

Accepting his new post he said “It’s time for the patient, Iraqi people to be treated with the dignity that God has given them.”

He urged fellow lawmakers to work together, adding “If we neglect our duties and fail, then we will hurt ourselves and the people will replace us with others.”