|The seven-month political impasse has blocked the formation of a new government [AFP]
Iraq's supreme court has ordered parliament to convene, nearly eight months after inconclusive elections left the country without a new government.
The court on Sunday said legislators' self-declared absence "violated the constitution".
Abdul Sattar Bayrakdar, a spokesman for the court, said the parliament was ordered to end the delay in choosing a speaker, the first step to forming a coalition in Iraq, which has been without a government since the March 7 elections.
"In a decision taken today, the supreme court ordered parliament to return to its regular meetings and do its regular work," Bayrakdar said.
"It must start by choosing the speaker and two deputies, and then proceed step-by-step for the other nominations."
Following the order, Fouad Massoum, the parliament's acting speaker, told The Associated Press news agency that he expects to have a meeting date set by the end of this week.
Parliament's 325 legislators have met only once, briefly in June, since the elections that failed to give any party a ruling majority. Since then, duelling political leaders have resisted returning as they try to form alliances for enough support to name new government leaders, including the prime minister, when parliament reconvenes.
Without parliament in session, the government is in a holding pattern. It cannot move ahead with any major decisions, including business-friendly reforms such as streamlining bureaucracy and clarifying rules for foreign investment.
Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, is battling to keep his job after a bloc led by Iyad Allawi, the former prime minister, narrowly won the most seats in the March vote.
|Iraq has set the world record for the longest time without an elected government [EPA]
At that meeting, in June, legislators were sworn in and then decided to delay the formal return of parliament in order to give political leaders time to negotiate alliances. Under pressure from foreign allies and the Iraqi public, leaders since have twice tried - and failed - to reconvene parliament.
However, progress has since been slow and Iraq now holds the world record for the longest time without an elected government.
The sides are sharply divided over the formation of a new government, and analysts and some legislators have warned that a decision could still be at least a month away.
Sunday's court order settles a lawsuit brought by independent watchdog groups against Massoum in his role as acting speaker.
Massoum said he has not yet seen the order but has no choice but to abide by the court's demands.
"I will call the leaders of the political blocs for a counsellor's meeting, and expect to announce the date of the first session by the end of this week," he said.