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Afghan parliament elects ex-warlord as speaker

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s parliament elected a former Uzbek warlord as speaker on Sunday, ending a month of squabbling over the position that has further undermined the credibility of an assembly tainted by electoral fraud.

The endorsement of Abdul Rahoof Ibrahimi clears the way for the assembly -- a disparate collection of 249 individual lawmakers rather than coherent political parties -- to begin legislating five months after a parliamentary vote.

But parliament is struggling with the fallout from an election in September that was marred by fraud and prompted a court challenge backed by President Hamid Karzai that threatens dozens of sitting MPs.

The political battle is undermining the West’s efforts to foster good governance as it starts handing over control of security to Afghan forces and withdrawing many of the 150,000 NATO-led troops by 2014.

Ibrahimi, a little-known politician who is reported to have supported Karzai’s re-election in 2009, is a member of Afghanistan’s Uzbek minority and fought with the insurgent group Hizb-ul-Islami Gulbuddin (HiG) against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

HiG is now part of a Taliban-led insurgency against NATO-led troops and Afghan security forces.

Ibrahimi represents the northern province of Kunduz, which has become more violent over the past two years.

Karzai’s office issued a statement commending the choice of Ibrahimi as “worthy and right.”

His election resolves the most immediate impasse, but parliament continues to face “internal problems and external manipulation,” said Fabrizio Foschini of the Afghanistan Analysts Network research group.

Since convening on January 26, parliament has squabbled over two main candidates -- Younus Qanuni, a Tajik affiliated with the loose opposition bloc around failed presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah, and former mujahideen warlord Abdul Rabb Rasoul Sayyaf, who, like Karzai, is a member of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns.

The September 18 election trimmed the Pashtun representation and yielded a more vocal opposition bloc. But the president’s powers under the constitution are extensive, and Karzai has shown he will ignore the assembly and rule by decree.

A special court probe, initiated by Karzai to address reports of widespread vote-rigging, hangs over dozens of lawmakers, raising doubts over their readiness to challenge the president.

The court last week began recounting votes in several provinces, after the attorney general’s office seized ballot boxes from the Independent Election Commission earlier this month and threatened IEC officials with arrest.

Additional reporting and writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Paul Tait