Thursday's session was merely ceremonial as the new parliament was finally sworn in, three months after it was elected.

Adnan Pachachi, the acting speaker, told the 275-seat chamber in the fortified government compound in the Green Zone in Baghdad that security must be the priority if civil war was to be averted.

"We have to tell the world there will be no civil war among the Iraqi people. The risk is there," the veteran Sunni Arab politician, parliament's oldest member, said.

Barely 20 minutes after Pachachi rose, the session was over, having met a constitutional deadline for a first meeting within a month of the results from elections in December being finalised.

Technically, the "first" session of parliament was not adjourned, in a legal manoeuvre that gives parliament an open-ended timetable to elect a speaker, something the constitution demands be done at the assembly's opening session.

Once the speaker is elected, the new constitution sets a 30-day timetable for forming a government, although there is dispute over whether this should apply to the first parliament.

No practical meaning

The session was largely devoid of practical meaning as talks on forming a national unity government were still deadlocked.

"We will meet in parliament and then will go and sit at the negotiating table [about forming the coalition government] and yell at each other"

An Iraqi parliamentarian

Before the meeting, one parliamentarian said: "Nothing will happen today. There'll be no breakthrough, nothing. It is just something we have to get off our backs.

"We will meet in parliament and then will go and sit at the negotiating table [about forming the coalition government] and yell at each other."

In parliament, leaders said Iraq urgently needed stability and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the prime minister, whose nomination for a second term is blocking agreement on a government, said he was ready to step aside "if my people send me such a signal".
   
He did not make clear which people he meant.

Al-Jaafari is blamed by some for failures in security and the economy over the past year.