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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 26 April 2018

Iraqi MPs approve five candidates for new cabinet

Iraq has been hit by weeks of political turmoil surrounding prime minister Haider Al Abadi’s efforts to replace the cabinet of party-affiliated ministers with a government of technocrats.

Supporters of Moqtada Al Sadr during a protest in Baghdad demanding that the Iraqi parliament approves a long-delayed new cabinet and an end to political and sectarian wrangling. Ahmed Saad / Reuters
Supporters of Moqtada Al Sadr during a protest in Baghdad demanding that the Iraqi parliament approves a long-delayed new cabinet and an end to political and sectarian wrangling. Ahmed Saad / Reuters

Baghdad // Iraqi MPs approved five of the prime minister’s candidates for a new cabinet on Tuesday after weeks of delays and chaos at parliament, as thousands of people demonstrated for reforms.

But some MPs, who were barred from attending after chanting for the parliament speaker’s removal and disrupting an earlier session, said they would mount a legal challenge.

Iraq was hit by weeks of political turmoil surrounding prime minister Haider Al Abadi’s efforts to replace the cabinet of party-affiliated ministers with a government of technocrats.

The crisis came as Iraqi forces battled to regain more ground from ISIL. The United Nations and Washington warned that it could undermine the fight against the extremists.

Iraq was also hit hard by the plummeting price of oil since revenues from oil account for the vast majority of government funds.

The proposed cabinet changes were opposed by powerful political parties that relied on controlling ministries for patronage and funds and parliament had repeatedly failed to vote on a new cabinet list.

MPs approved Mr Al Abadi’s candidates for the ministries of electricity, health, higher education, labour and water resources.

But they rejected some of his nominees. The premier will present additional candidates on Saturday.

The recent chaos in parliaments led to MPs holding overnight sit-ins, brawling in the chamber and seeking to sack the parliamentary speaker Salim Al Juburi.

A week ago, Mr Al Abadi called for parliament to put aside its differences and do its job.

As the latest political turmoil played out in parliament, thousands of protesters demonstrated for reforms nearby in response to a call from powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr.

The demonstrators, many carrying Iraqi flags, marched from central Baghdad to an entrance to the heavily fortified Green Zone, where the government has its headquarters, chanting that politicians “are all thieves”.

The government “did not bring the country and Iraqis anything but poverty and killing,” said demonstrator Abu Ali Al Zaidi, who travelled from Maysan province in the south for the protest.

“The political quotas and the parties that control everything are the reason for the failure of the government,” said Abu Mohammed Al Sudani, a protester from Baghdad.

For years, key government posts were shared out based on political and sectarian quotas.

Ali Al Bahadli, a cleric from the Sadr Movement who was taking part in the demonstration, said: “We want the ministers to be independent outside the control of the political parties and parliament.”

Sadr, the scion of a powerful clerical family who raised a rebellion against US-led forces in the past and commanded a feared militia, called for a mass demonstration in Baghdad on Tuesday to pressure the government to carry out reforms.

He organised a two-week sit-in at entrances to the green zone last month, calling it off only after Mr Al Abadi presented a list of cabinet nominees.

The prime minister called in February for fundamental changes to the cabinet to include professional and technocratic figures and academics, a prelude to the latest chapter in a months-long saga of Mr Al Abadi proposing reforms that parties and politicians with interests in the existing system have sought to delay or undermine.

* Agence France-Presse