Sunday, April 17, 2016

Crisis continues in Baghdad

Moqtada al-Sadr during hiss ''sit in''. (Reuters)

Hundreds rallied in central Baghdad on Sunday in support of powerful Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who has threatened to call mass protests if the prime minister fails to name a new cabinet to fight corruption by Tuesday. People in Tahrir Square on Sunday said many more would join them if Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi did not select a government mainly made up of technical experts to tackle what they see as widespread graft and mismanagement.
"Yes, yes to Iraq; no, no to corruption," they chanted, carrying Iraqi flags.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's presented on 31 March a list of new ministers in keeping with a deadline set by the legislature earlier in the week, which was underscored by a ''sit in'' in the Green Zone by Moqtada al-Sadr personally. The list was made up of independent professionals who he hoped could free their ministries from the grip of dominant political groups that have built their influence and wealth on a system of patronage put in place since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Though Abadi did not disclose the names of his new ministers, a list leaked to the press showed that most of the candidates are not seen to be loyal to Iraq's existing political blocs that dominate the parliament. Criticism about their professional skills as well as their political independence was also raised. But the most serious sticking point remains the existing power-sharing formula introduced after the US invasion in 2003 which ousted the regime of Saddam Hussein and empowered both Shia and Kurds.

After the presentation of the list, the parliament had 10 days to agree on Abadi's nominees. But then the crisisi deepened. Instead of voting on the new list of ministers the vote was postpond three times and now - amid a major row - the Iraqi politicians voted to remove the parliamentary speaker. The office of parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi, one of the country's leading Sunni Arab politicians, said the session was "unconstitutional and lacked the necessary quorum". But Niyazi Oghlu, the official responsible for taking roll at parliament, put the number of politicians present at 173 out of 328, while two MPs also said more than 170 attended. Under Iraq's constitution at least 165 members, or 51 percent of the legislature's 328 members, have to endorse such a decision.
The rationale behind forming a government of qualified professionals is to get around the ethno-sectarian quota system in order to push reforms stalled by government's inefficiency, corruption and power struggles.
This seems to be impossible as long as the power-sharing arrangements which only benefit the ruling ethnic and sectarian class remain in place. To underscore this challenge, a Kurdish geologist, nominated to be Iraq's new oil minister, turned down the offer a day after his name appeared on the list of Abadi's candidates. He apparently did that under pressure from Kurdish parties.
Even before going to the parliament, Abadi received a high-profile snub from self-ruled Kurds. Kurdish lawmakers said they will not support a government formed without prior consultation with their leadership.
Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani, who is seeking full statehood from Iraq, had threatened that his autonomous administration would consider the reshuffle as irrelevant.
There is increasing fear that Barzani wants to exploit the government crisis to further his independence agenda and hold a planned referendum for breaking away from Iraq.
Perhaps the biggest winner in the crisis is Moqtada al-Sadr, who has emerged with a competitive edge over other Shia leaders. By showing the ability to mobilise masses flooding the streets of Baghdad and other cities against the government, Sadr has proved to be Iraqi Shia's most prominent political leader.
His drive for reform has apparently won a blessing from Iraq's most prominent Shia spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has demanded that Abadi gets serious about tackling corruption after a wave of protests swept across Iraq last summer.

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