Iraq remains in political limbo as Shia factions discuss way out of crisis

Local media reported that there were plans to reinstate Adel Abdul-Mahdi if a suitable candidate could not be found.
Sunday 15/03/2020
Iraqi Shia cleric and leader of the Hikma Movement Ammar al-Hakim (C) arrives to deliver a speech at Al-Kehlani Square in Baghdad during a gathering of his supporters. (DPA)
Heading to impasse? Iraqi Shia cleric and leader of the Hikma Movement Ammar al-Hakim (C) arrives to deliver a speech at Al-Kehlani Square in Baghdad during a gathering of his supporters. (DPA)

LONDON - Iraq remained in political limbo after Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Allawi withdrew his candidacy and rival factions discussed replacements and a way out of the crisis.

Iraq’s powerful Shia political factions, which backed Allawi’s candidacy, met regarding the impasse but also faced criticism for meeting with a senior Iranian official over the troubling situation.

Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Admiral Ali Shamkhani went to Baghdad following Allawi’s withdrawal and his meeting with Iraqi Shia political leaders was viewed with suspicion by Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish political factions.

“All political factions must bear responsibility for the delay in choosing a new prime minister and forming a new government,” said MP Sattar al-Jabiri, who represents the Hikma Movement led by Ammar al-Hakim.

Speaking to Iraq’s Al-Sumaria News, he confirmed that Iraq’s main Shia political factions formed a “national council” to discuss potential nominees to replace Allawi. Jabiri said the new prime minister-designate would be tasked with drawing up a “road map” to early elections.

Early elections are a key demand of Iraq’s nation-wide protests, along with calls for public services and anti-corruption reform.

“The committee that has been formed by Shia forces will work to draw up a shortlist of names from which a single candidate will be chosen to be put forward as a candidate for prime minister before the end of the specified period,” he said.

The Iraqi Constitution mandates that an agreed name can be put forward but if no name can be agreed on, Iraqi President Barham Salih would designate a prime minister candidate unilaterally.

“There are intensive ongoing meetings to resolve this issue to overcome the current stage and end the state of [political] fragmentation,” Jabiri said.

The political back and forth took place amid escalating tensions between the United States and Iran-backed militias after a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base killed three US coalition members, two Americans and one UK soldier.

Former PMF Chairman Falih Alfayyadh met with other senior Shia leaders in Iraq, including former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Hakim. Reports indicated they reached an agreement to nominate a candidate Iraq’s Kurds and Sunnis would find acceptable.

Allawi had been unable to get Sunni and Kurdish factions on-side, failing to secure a parliamentary quorum to vote on his proposed cabinet.

Local media reported that there were plans to reinstate Adel Abdul-Mahdi as a stopgap measure if a suitable candidate could not be found.

Abdul-Mahdi, who resigned as prime minister on November 30 under pressure from nationwide anti-government protests, remained in office in a caretaker capacity. On March 4, he announced he would take a “voluntary absence” from the role but would not be officially resigning, instead handing over most of his duties to the head of his office, Abu Jihad al-Hashemi.

This was perceived as a stalling tactic to prevent Salih from taking on the duties of prime minister, as the Iraqi Constitution would have allowed. Despite his announcement, Abdul-Mahdi had been visible in recent days, visiting Basra governorate and leading a national meeting on COVID-19.

Abu Ali al-Askari, a spokesman for the Iran-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah, a member of the PMF, indicated there was a desire among some parties to keep Abdul-Mahdi in office.

“The best option is to keep Abdul-Mahdi in the prime minister’s office,” he posted on Twitter after Allawi’s withdrawal. “The only obstacle against him is the religious authority view that led to his resignation. This can be changed now.”

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