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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Angry Iraqi MPs may topple prime minister-designate before he is sworn in

Adel Abdul Mahdi is likely to face serious opposition within parliament

 Adel Abdul Mahdi, the newly appointed Prime Minister attending a press conference at the headquarter of Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq, 02 October 2018. EPA
 Adel Abdul Mahdi, the newly appointed Prime Minister attending a press conference at the headquarter of Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq, 02 October 2018. EPA

Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Adel Abdul Mahdi is likely to face serious opposition within parliament that could hinder the approval of his government, Iraqi political leaders and lawmakers told The National on Tuesday.

They are likely to protest against mechanisms adopted to nominate the ministers and the distribution of portfolios.

Abdul Mahdi will put his governmental program and the list of his cabinet to vote in the parliament on Wednesday evening, a statement issued by the Speaker of the Parliament on Monday said.

The ratification of any government requires a vote on each individual candidate, and a then vote on the whole package. The winning minister must receive at least 166 votes, representing half of the 329 members of parliament plus one.

One-hundred and twenty members of parliament from various blocs submitted a written request to the Presidency of the House of Representatives on Monday to adopt a secret vote on the ratification of the cabinet.

The secret vote would liberate the MPs from the influence of the heads of their political blocs and gives them freedom to violate the agreements concluded by the heads of the blocs and Mr Abdul Mahdi.

The key leaders of the ruling coalition that consists of the Reform Alliance, sponsored by the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, and the Iranian-backed alliance of Al Binna’a, led by commander of the Badr Organisation Hadi Al Amiri, the most powerful Shiite armed faction, have given Abdel Mahdi the full right to nominate candidates who will occupy their share of ministries.

However, some of their deputies and their allies were upset because of this agreement, especially after the announcement made by Mr Abdul Mahdi that no current or former deputy will take any of the ministerial posts.

“MPs feel resentment and anger at the mechanics of choosing ministers,” Jassem Mohammed Al Jaf, Minister of Immigration and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party told The National.

“There are many blocs and MPs within the blocs are not satisfied with the nomination of some names and some of them are dissatisfied with the share of ministries, therefore there is an intention not to vote for the whole list (of the cabinet),” he said.

“If the vote will be secret, certain names (of the nominated ministers) will fall. It is a kind of pressure until Abdul Mahdi gives up and responds to some demands.”

According to the Iraqi constitution, any government must include representatives of all the Iraqi communities: Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. In addition, a gentleman’s agreement adopted by the Iraqi political forces in 2005 states they must share the ministerial posts according to the number of parliamentary seats of the blocs participating in the ruling coalition and its allies.

Mr Abdul Mahdi’s proposed government will consist of 22 ministries as well as two vice-presidents, one Sunni and the other Shiite and no deputies for the prime minister.

The map of the ministry distribution shows that Reform will get the ministries of Oil, Transport, Health, Electricity, Higher Education and Water Resources. These ministries will be occupied by Shiites, while Al Binna’a will get the ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Labour, Communication and Housing and Construction.

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Sunnis within the two alliances will get the ministries of Defence, Plan, Trade, Education, Industry and Sport and Youth, while Kurds will get the ministries of Finance, Justice and Immigration.

Mr Sadr, Mr Amiri, Ammar Al Hakim, the head of Al Hikma, and Haider Al Abadi, the outgoing prime minister and head of the Al Nassir Alliance, have pledged to grant full freedom to Abdul Mahdi to choose who wants to occupy the portfolios that fall within their quotas. But their Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish partners have refused and insisted to maintain their right to nominate their ministers.

Most of the 120 names of MPs who signed the request to adopt the secret vote, belong to the Al Binna’a alliance and its Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish allies.

"A government that does not trust the MP and tries to distort the image of the legislature and harm it, is a government that does not deserve our trust,” Alliya Nassief, a lawmaker said in a statement.

Wednesday's session will include a vote on only 16 ministers, with the vote postponed for six ministries: defence, interior, planning, industry, education and agriculture. They are to be run by Abdul Mahdi for a while, Shiite negotiators told the National.

“Keeping a number of ministries vacant will keep some MPs and blocs hoping to get them, so they will not seek to abort his government,” a key Shiite negotiator told The National.