Iraq's lawmakers failed to elect a speaker on Saturday as neither of the two main candidates secured a majority during a tense session of parliament.

It is the latest in a series of failed attempts to replace the former head of parliament who was dismissed in November, with political bickering and divisions between key Sunni parties derailing every attempt so far.

Saturday's vote was the closest yet to selecting a new head of the 329-member parliament, with 311 lawmakers showing up for the session and the leading candidate falling just seven votes short.

The parliament's media office announced that 137 lawmakers chose Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the oldest MP, while 158 picked Salem al-Issawi.

However, candidates require at least 165 votes to win.

Many lawmakers did not return for a second attempt on Saturday, with local media sharing videos of a brief brawl between MPs and reporting that at least one of them was injured.

The parliament's media office then announced that the session had been adjourned.

Iraq, a mosaic of different ethnic and religious groups, is governed by complex power-sharing arrangements.

The largely ceremonial role of president traditionally goes to a Kurd, that of prime minister to a Shiite, while the speaker of parliament is usually Sunni.

But parliament is dominated by a coalition of pro-Iran Shiite parties, reflecting the country's largest religious group.

A coalition of three Sunni blocs backed Issawi, while Mashhadani, who served as Iraq's first speaker following the adoption of the 2005 constitution, received the support of the former speaker Mohamed al-Halbussi's sizeable bloc.

The new speaker will replace Halbussi, the influential politician dismissed by Iraq's top court in November last year after a lawmaker accused him of forging a resignation letter.

Halbussi had been the country's highest-ranking Sunni official since he first became a speaker in 2018.

The new speaker's stint will not last long with the general election due in 2025.