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FILE PHOTO - Barham Salih, Former Prime Minister of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government and Head of the Coalition for Democracy and Justice speaks during an interview with Reuters in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Ako Rasheed

(reuters_tickers)

By Ahmed Rasheed

SULAIMANIYA, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraq's parliament elected veteran Kurdish politician Barham Salih president on Tuesday after months of political deadlock, with 219 of its 329 lawmakers voting for him.

"I promise to safeguard Iraq's unity and safety," Salih said as he was sworn in.

Iraq's presidency, traditionally occupied by a Kurd, is a largely ceremonial position but the vote is a key step towards forming a new government, which politicians have failed to do since an inconclusive national election in May.

"Today is a remarkable day for Iraq. Democracy won," said lawmaker Rebwar Taha of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party that nominated Salih.

Under Iraq's constitution, Salih has 15 days to invite the nominee of the largest parliamentary bloc to form a government. The prime minister-designate would have 30 days to form a cabinet and present it to parliament for approval.

Since Saddam Hussein was toppled in a 2003 U.S.-led invasion, power has been shared among Iraq’s three largest ethnic-sectarian components.

The prime minister has traditionally been a Shi’ite Arab, the speaker of parliament a Sunni Arab and the president a Kurd.

(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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Reuters