Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 November 2019

Iraq’s parliament votes in new ministers after months of deadlock

The prime minister has been under immense pressure to finalise his cabinet eight months since assuming office

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. AP
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. AP

The Iraqi parliament on Monday filled several key ministerial positions after months of uncertainty that challenged the security of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's position.

Since assuming office last October, the premier has struggled to form a cabinet and fill the powerful interior and defence roles with candidates who have enough support from the rest of parliament.

Mr Abdul Mahdi presented four names to parliament on Sunday night: Yassin Al Yasiri for interior minister, Najah Al Shammari for defence minister, Judge Farouk Shawani for justice minister and Savana Al Hamdani for education minister.

Mr Al Yasiri, Mr Al Shammari and Mr Shawani were all voted in on Monday, but a vote on the education minister has been delayed until Thursday after Ms Al Hamdani's nomination was rejected.

"The nomination for interior and defence had popular support from the political blocs. The candidate for the ministry of education was tough, though, with many disagreements among different groups," Sarkwat Al Shamsi, a member of parliament who attended the vote, told The National on Monday.

Ms Al Hamdani’s nomination was contraversial among the parliamentary Shiite groups as they say she is affiliated with Iraq’s previous government, the Baath regime.

Political difficulties have intensified in recent weeks as competing regional patrons vie for influence in a push-and-pull that has delayed the formation of the cabinet numerous times.

Populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr called last week for the swift formation of the government, giving the prime minister 10 days to finalise his cabinet.

Mr Al Sadr warned that his supporters would take a “new stance” against the government of Mr Abdul Mahdi if politicians fail to vote on key vacant positions.

Mr Abdul Mahdi has so far failed to assert his influence over parliament’s two dominant political blocs, Islah and Binaa.

The Saairun party of Mr Al Sadr, which gained the majority of votes during last May’s general elections, leads the Islah bloc.

The Binaa bloc is led by Hadi Al Amiri’s political alliance Fatah and includes the political wing of the Iran-linked Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella group of militias that were formed to fight ISIS.

Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi, 77, is an independent politician who choose not to run in the May 2018 elections, but was appointed to office by President Barham Salih last October.

He is seen as a compromise candidate by Binaa and Islah.

The delay in government formation raises concerns over the stability of the country following a brutal battle against ISIS and an internal armed conflict.

Iraq is suffering from an infrastructure crisis, corruption and wasteful spending that resulted in months of protests in southern Basra last summer that this week flared up again.

Demonstrators demanded action to fix the stagnant economy and provide jobs.

Updated: June 24, 2019 02:59 PM

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