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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

Iraqi MPs debate late into the night proposed cabinet nominees   

Prime minister designate Adel Abdul Mahdi says he seeks to prioritise reform and development

Iraq's prime minister designate Adel Abdel Mahdi arrives with parliament speaker Mohamhed Halbusi at the parliament headquarters in the capital Baghdad. AFP
Iraq's prime minister designate Adel Abdel Mahdi arrives with parliament speaker Mohamhed Halbusi at the parliament headquarters in the capital Baghdad. AFP

Iraqi members of parliament on Wednesday were debating late into the night the proposed nominees of Prime Minister designate Adel Abdul Mahdi.

It was expected the government would be approved in order to ensure that Mr Abdul Mahdi remains prime minister, however some ministerial positions remained vacant due to disagreements.

Mr Abdul Mahdi's four-year government programme focuses on some of Iraq's most pressing issues - corruption, reconstruction, economic development and a crippling water crisis. It is divided into five sections, including the completion of state building, an enhanced security apparatus, investment in energy and water resources, strengthening of the economy and social development.

One of the new and more radical proposals is the elimination of the position of deputy prime minister.

The premier designate says he is seeking to lay out a criteria both for parliament and the integrity committee when dealing with cases of corruption, arguably the country's biggest problem.

"By rebuilding a transparent and effective system that establishes a work environment that promotes integrity and fights corruption. We will punish and expose perpetrators," Mr Abdul Mahdi’s proposed programme read in reference to corruption.

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"Corruption, in all its forms and practices, is a result of poor management and lack of standards. All successive governments have lost the opportunity to make a difference," the programme proposal said.

Mr Abdul Mahdi said the draft draws a comprehensive vision for the duties of the ministries from 2018 to 2022. The ministries, however, have yet to be filled.

He pointed to the establishment of a timetable to implement and follow up the work of ministries to meet civilians' urgent needs.

The draft programme only covers a limited number of issues, but reflects Mr Abdul Mahdi's willingness to gain parliament's confidence and approval.

According to the draft, the premier designate will tackle the water crisis that has hospitalised hundreds of thousands and has prompted violent protests in the southern city of Basra.

"The new government vows to ensure that international contracts will be made to complete desalination of sea water in the province of Basra and other southern cities," a statement obtained earlier on Wednesday by The National said.

Mr Abdel Mahdi was tasked on October 2 by President Barham Salih, a Kurd, with forming the new government.

An independent who did not run in the May election, Mr Abdul Mahdi was chosen as a compromise candidate by the two largest parliamentary blocs.

Two blocs have so far pulled out of talks, including Moqtada Al Sadr’s Sairoon, underscoring the difficulties faced by Mr Abdul Mahdi as he seeks consensus over his cabinet. The move could prolong uncertainty in Iraq five months after parliamentary elections.

Mr Al Nujaifi, a former parliament speaker, told local media his bloc, which won 14 seats in May's election, had abandoned the talks because ministries had been awarded to only "one bloc" representing the sect.

#تحالف_القرار_العراقي لن يصوت بالثقة للحكومة ويعمل على تشكيل معارضة إيجابية داخل البرلمان

— Osama Al-Nujaifi (@Osama_Alnujaifi) October 24, 2018

He was apparently referring to the other main Sunni parliamentary bloc, led by current speaker, Mohammed Al Halbousi.

An approximate 120 lawmakers have called for a ballot on the new cabinet. It will not be secret, as initially announced.

The politicians called on Mr Abdul Mahdi to not include any of the current and former ministers in his new cabinet.

Yet, Populist cleric, Moqtada Al Sadr rejected on Wednesday the call for a secret vote that was carried out in parliament on the new cabinet line-up.

"Iraqis want to reform the system through an honest government with independent technocrats that are supervised by the prime minister designate," Mr Al Sadr said in a statement.

The premier designate is expected to submit his government of 15 ministerial portfolios, whilst postponing the announcement of seven other ministries to a later date.

Mr Abdul Mahdi's administration will take over a state that is facing major challenges of reconstruction after a war against ISIS, a displacement crisis that has left millions stranded and a troubled economy.