Iraq's parliament elected senior Kurdish lawmaker Fouad Masoum as president on Thursday, a long-awaited step in creating a new government capable of countering a Sunni Muslim insurgency.
Iraq's politicians have been in deadlock over forming a new government since an election in April. The next step, choosing a prime minister, may prove far more difficult.
Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has ruled since the election in a caretaker capacity, defying demands from the Sunnis and Kurds that he step aside for a less divisive figure. Even some Shi'ites oppose his bid for a third term.
Critics say Maliki is a polarising figure who has stirred up sectarian tensions that have worsened since Sunni insurgents swept through north and west Iraq last month, seizing large swathes of territory and declaring a "caliphate".
A shooting and bombing attack on a bus near Baghdad killed 52 prisoners and nine policemen on Thursday, Ministry of Justice sources said, highlighting the need for political leaders to bury their differences and bring stability.