"I will call today for parliament to hold the first session on the 12th of the current month since it is the last day that the constitution allows," Jalal Talabani said on Monday.

The session will meet a constitutional timetable but sectarian bloodshed and efforts by Sunni, Kurdish and secular leaders to oust Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Shia prime minister, have delayed the formation of a unity government to tackle the threat of civil war.

According to the Transitional Administrative Law, the US-sponsored interim constitution still in force, lawmakers must first elect a speaker of parliament and then a president and two deputies, who in turn will name a prime minister to form a new government within two weeks.

But there is no timeframe for these posts to be filled. The new constitution, approved in a referendum last October, does give a timetable, but it will take effect only after the country's first four-year government is formed.

Impasse
   
Nearly three months after an election hailed by the United States as a significant milestone in Iraq's democratic process, the country's divided political leaders are still fighting over the post of prime minister in the new government.
   
The impasse, complicated by violence that has pitched Iraq towards civil war, has delayed the formation of a government that includes Shia, Sunnis and Kurds.
   
Government officials and political sources said the row over the premiership meant that only the job of parliament speaker was likely to be agreed when parliament sits.

Talabani sent a delegation on Sunday to meet influential Shia cleric Grand Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani to help break the impasse over the premiership.

The reclusive al-Sistani, based in the city of Najaf, is not directly involved in politics but has huge influence over the bulk of the country's 60% Shia majority.

Talabani said on Monday the delegation to Sistani had returned to Baghdad satisfied.

As the biggest bloc in parliament, the ruling Shia Alliance exercised its right last month to nominate the prime minister, handing the job to al-Jaafari after he won an internal ballot of Shia members of parliament by one vote.
  
But Iraq's other main parties are disenchanted with al-Jaafari's handling of security and economic problems over the past year as interim prime minister and want the Alliance to replace him as their price for joining the government.