Kurdish politician Fuad Masum became the new president of Iraq yesterday, in a step towards forming a new government that visiting UN chief Ban Ki-moon said must be inclusive for the country to survive.
A June onslaught on Sunni Arab areas north and west of Baghdad led by the jihadist Islamic State group has brought Iraq to the brink of breakup, with the government struggling to assert any authority beyond its Shiite power base.
Parliament elected Masum, who served as the first prime minister of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region more than two decades ago, by an overwhelming majority of 211 votes to 17.
He had been almost guaranteed the job after Kurdish parties struck a late-night deal to support him.
Under an unofficial power-sharing deal, Iraq's Kurds traditionally get the post of president.
The move could pave the way for a deal on the much more powerful post of prime minister.
The UN chief met current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and stressed the need for a broad-based government to be formed as soon as possible to save the country from collapse.
Meanwhile, insurgents launched a spectacular pre-dawn assault yesterday on a convoy transferring inmates convicted of terrorism charges in Taji, only 25 kilometres (15 miles) north of Baghdad.
According to police and medical sources, at least 60 people died in the attack, which saw militants ram a security convoy with a suicide car bomb before detonating other bombs and raking it with gunfire.
Nearly all of the 60 prisoners believed to be on the bus died.
It was not immediately clear how many attackers died nor how the prisoners they were apparently trying to free were killed.