Iraq's new parliament meets as rival blocs vie for majority

Iraq's newly-elected parliament held its first session on Monday as two blocs, both claiming to hold the most seats, vied for the right to form a new government.

The session opened with a prayer and an orchestral performance of the national anthem, as lawmakers sat for the first time since national elections were held in May.

The new parliament faces the twin tasks of rebuilding the north of the country following the war against the Islamic State group, while rehabilitating services to the south, where severe water and electricity shortages have fueled protests.

"We must focus in the next stage on reconstruction, services, and providing jobs. It is the time for economic reforms and expanding our security achievements," said caretaker Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in an address to parliament.

Al-Abadi, who came to power in 2014, oversaw the war on the IS group after the extremists swept through the north of the country.

He declared victory last year, but the militants continue to raid, kidnap, and murder Iraqis in lawless and underserved regions in the west and center of the country.

Lawmakers must now select a parliament speaker before electing a president. The president then appoints a prime minister to form a government.

Two factions claim to hold the most seats in parliament and therefore the right to name a prime minister.

A coalition led by al-Abadi and populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has the support of the U.S., while an alliance between former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and militia leader Hadi al-Amiri is backed by Iran.

But it is not clear if either alliance has an outright majority, and al-Maliki is said to be trying to woo lawmakers from al-Abadi's bloc to switch sides. Al-Maliki and al-Abadi are both leading members of the Islamic Dawa party, which remains divided over the longstanding rivalry between the two men.