ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish. Iraq took a small step toward settling its political crisis and violent internal conflict today. It elected a new speaker of the parliament. The UN had said the country could plunge into chaos if that didn't happen. Much of the country is still in open revolt and under the control of radical Sunni militias and their local allies. Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is accused of aggravating the country's divisions. And as NPR's Leila Fadel reports, today's move won't be enough to reduce the pressure to replace him.
SALIM AL-JABOURI: Arabic spoken.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: On Iraqi TV, legislators burst into applause after choosing Sunni parliamentarian, Salim al-Jabouri, as the new speaker of the parliament. It's a political breakthrough that may lead to a new government. A breakthrough that the United States and the United Nations say is the key to pulling Iraq from this crisis. But others say it's not that simple.
AYAD ALLAWI: We have now a divided society and this division - say if it continues - what will follow is a geographic divide.
FADEL: That's Ayad Allawi, who ran against Maliki in 2010 and still claims the election was stolen. He's in Erbil in northern Iraq to build support for a roadmap out of this mess. He says that starts with reconciliation, a transitional government and later a new election and possibly a new constitution. In other words, throwing out the entire system built under the former American occupation and starting fresh.
ALLAWI: Everybody wants to see a roadmap, want to see clarity, want to unite, want to remove the pressure and the oppression that's being applied by the government on various sectors of the operation.
FADEL: Last month, militants with the extremist group calling itself the Islamic State took control of swaths of Sunni-Arab Iraq. It was fertile ground with so much of the Sunni-Arab population feeling repressed by the Shia-led government in Baghdad. Allawi, a secular Shia who has allied with other secular Shias and Sunnis, is among those saying the country won't have peace until Sunni rights are assured. The country's Kurdish minority is enraged, too. Maliki has accused the Kurds of hosting terrorists and is starving the region economically. So the Kurds have withdrawn their ministers from Maliki's cabinet and begun discussing a referendum on independence from Baghdad. Falah Mustafa Bakir is head of foreign relations for the Kurdish region.
FALAH MUSTAFA BAKIR: We have not surrendered to the will of Saddam Hussein and it would be impossible for us to surrender to the will of Mr. Maliki. We are a people who have sacrificed hugely for the success of the freedom of our people and a better future.
FADEL: The Kurds are taking steps to become independent and he says Iraq cannot stay together. Ali al-Jaberi was a longtime U.S. adviser in Iraq who's been critical of the U.S. backing of Maliki in the past. He now heads a divide-based consultancy.
ALI AL-JABERI: We're watching Iraq rip itself apart and I'm pretty sure it's too late to do anything about it.
FADEL: He says the U.S. has to accept and prepare for the division of Iraq into a Shia-Arab state allied with Iran, a violent Sunni-Arab state and a Kurdish state.
JABERI: We should be coldly realistic with ourselves and admit that basically America was strategically defeated in Iraq.
FADEL: But American officials say a partitioned Iraq would just play into the hands of the extremists. And Maliki, who has been supported in the past by the country's Shia majority, but has seen allies peeling off, vows to fight for his job. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Erbil. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.