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Iraq's 'largest political bloc' nominates Basra governor to take top position

Latest election amendments fail to calm public anger at a political elite blamed for a faltering economy and rampant corruption

The governor of Basra was nominated on Wednesday to serve as Iraq’s next prime minister, reports said, despite the public’s refusal to accept a political figure to head the next government.

Rising public anger at the poor quality of public services, corruption and unemployment have led to mass protests across Baghdad and southern provinces over the past few months.

More than 450 people have been killed and thousands injured since the anti-government movement began on October 1.

Assad Al Eidani, the former minister of youth and sports, is the latest candidate to be chosen by parliament’s Binaa bloc, led by Iranian-backed politician Hadi Al Amiri.

“President Barham Salih is now in a meeting with the Al Eidani,” an Iraqi official said on Wednesday. “The public may reject his nomination."

The Binaa bloc previously nominated Mohammad Al Sudani, a former member of the country’s Islamic Dawa party, to take the position but protesters fiercely rejected him.

Qusay Al Suhail, who served as higher education minister in the government of Mr Abdul Mahdi, was also nominated but was opposed by the public for his ties with Iran.

Outgoing premier Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned last month and talks over his post have been deadlocked after a series of deadlines to name a new prime minister expired at midnight on Sunday.

The Iraqi parliament’s two blocs of political parties – the Iranian-backed Binaa, and Sairoon, backed by the populist and anti-Iranian cleric Moqtada Al Sadr – have been closely involved in backroom deals during the past few days.

The two dispute which party has the most seats because it was never made clear in the current parliament, and some politicians have frequently switched allegiance.

Any candidate will need the backing of both blocs to progress and begin trying to form a government.

The development came as parliament passed a new electoral law on Tuesday in an attempt to calm public frustration.

Mr Sadr said the new amendments will get rid of “corrupt parties”.

“The passing of law is a demand of the people and we are patiently waiting for the electoral commission to be truly independent,” Mr Al Sadr said late on Tuesday.

The development will allow voters to elect individual politicians instead of choosing from party lists.

In addition, each member of parliament will get to represent a specific electoral district instead of groups of legislators.

But the amendments alone will not be enough to please the protesters.

“If the same parties remain in power and use the threat of violence to rule then a new election law is redundant in protesters’ eyes,” said Sajad Jiyad, the managing director of the Bayan Center, an Iraq-based think tank.

Although the passing of the new election law is seen as a “positive step” it needs further legislation to fully support it, an Iraqi official, who choose to remain anonymous, told The National.

“There need to be laws that monitor and review the financial spending of the political parties, this needs to be done under the UN's supervision … otherwise, corruption will continue”.

Protesters have demanded not just a new electoral law, but also the removal of the entire ruling elite seen as enriching itself off the state and serving foreign powers, above all Iran, as many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, healthcare or education, and an independent premier with no party affiliation.

After a dwindling in recent weeks following a string of killings and kidnappings, the movement has regained momentum at a time when political factions are jockeying over a replacement for outgoing prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Demonstrations were held on Tuesday night in several southern provinces, with many still determined to enact real political changes in the country.

Protesters marched in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, Nasiriyah and Basra chanting, “the parliament’s largest bloc has demonstrator’s blood on its hands”.

In Diwaniyah, demonstrators torched political party’s office. People set fire to the headquarters of the ruling Dawa Party and the Badr Organisation whose leaders are all vying to form the next government.

They also burnt the office of the Shiite militia group Asaib Ahl Al Haq.

Updated: December 25, 2019 05:11 PM

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