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Thousands Protest in Iraq as Deadline for New PM Looms

Thousands Protest in Iraq as Deadline for New PM Looms

Sunday, 22 December, 2019 - 11:45
Iraqi anti-government protesters carry a large national flag during ongoing demonstrations in the capital Baghdad's Tahrir square | AFP

Thousands of protesters poured into the streets of Baghdad and Iraq’s southern provinces Sunday, rejecting a nominee for the post of prime minister who some say is too close to Iran.

The demonstrations come ahead a Sunday midnight deadline for naming an interim prime minister, with no apparent solution in sight.

The protesters closed roads in southern provinces, including oil-rich Basra, saying they won’t accept the nomination of the outgoing higher education minister, Qusay al-Suhail.

Iraq’s leaderless uprising has roiled the country since Oct. 1, with at least 400 people killed in the violence. Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Baghdad and the predominantly Shiite south to decry corruption, poor services and a lack of jobs, while also calling for an end to the political system imposed after the 2003 US-led invasion.

Pressure from the demonstrations led Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi to resign late last month, after Iraq’s most powerful religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, withdrew support for Abdul-Mahdi’s government.

The protest movement has lost momentum in recent weeks as it has been hit by intimidation, including assassinations perpetrated by militias, according to the UN.

Around 460 people have been killed since the protests began nearly three months ago, and some 25,000 have been wounded.

But the movement appeared to regain some confidence on Sunday.

Dozens of protesters blocked roads linking southern cities to Baghdad with burning tires, an AFP correspondent said.

In Karbala and Najaf, two Shia holy cities, striking students closed schools and gathered in their thousands, AFP correspondents said.

In Nasiriyah, protesters blocked bridges and several roads while all public buildings remained closed.

On Friday, Sistani, in his weekly sermon delivered by a representative, called for political blocs to form the government quickly. The Iran-born Sistani said that the new prime minister should be accepted by the public.

Iraq’s constitution requires that the parliament’s largest bloc name a candidate for the premiership within 15 days of accepting the prime minister’s resignation. That deadline expired last Thursday, but was extended until midnight Sunday.

The political deadlock has been worsened by a dispute over which bloc is actually the largest in parliament. The numbers have continued to change since last year’s elections, with an unknown number of lawmakers leaving some blocs and joining others.

The Federal Supreme Court provided guidance in a statement Saturday, but stopped short of naming the largest bloc. It said the decision should be based on parliament’s first session after taking office last year. But the court also said it would accept if two or more lists had merged to become the largest bloc in that session.

Two Iraqi officials said President Barham Saleh sent the court’s response to parliament, asking the legislature to say which is the largest bloc. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

There are currently two main blocs in Iraq’s parliament: Sairoon, led by populist Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and Fatah, which includes leaders associated with the paramilitary Popular Mobilization Units, headed by Hadi al-Amiri.

Suheil was nominated for prime minister by Fatah and their allies. Sairoon is insisting that the candidate be selected by the anti-government protesters on the street. Anti-government protesters are calling for snap elections and a reformed electoral law that would give them a greater say in how lawmakers are elected. They consider the current draft being considered by Parliament to be inadequate.

In the northern town of Beiji, members of ISIS militant group attacked Saturday night a police force protecting the oil refinery killing for policemen, according to military statement. It added that policemen killed one attacker who was wearing an explosive belt.

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