Iraq parties in talks over new PM amid unrelenting protests

Baghdad: Iraq’s rival parties were negotiating the contours of a new government on Monday, after the previous cabinet was brought down by a two-month protest movement demanding more deep-rooted change.
After just over a year in power, Premier Adel Abdel Mahdi stepped down last week after a dramatic intervention by top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
That followed a wave of violence that pushed the protest toll to over 420 dead — the vast majority demonstrators. Parliament on Sunday formally tasked President Barham Saleh with naming a new candidate, as prescribed by the constitution.
But Iraq’s competing factions typically engage in drawn-out discussions and horsetrading before any official decisions are made.
Talks over a new premier began even before Abdel Mahdi’s formal resignation, a senior political source and a government official said.
“The meetings are ongoing now,” the political source added.
Such discussions produced Abdel Mahdi as a candidate in 2018, but agreeing on a single name is expected to be more difficult this time around.
For the first time in Iraq’s recent political history, factions have to take public anger into consideration in their talks over candidates.
Protesters hit the streets in early October in Iraq’s capital and south to denounce a ruling system as corrupt, inept and under the sway of foreign powers. Demonstrators say the problem is systemic, so instead of packing up their protest camps after Abdel Mahdi’s resignation, they doubled down.
They insist they want “none of the same faces” that have dominated Iraq’s political scene for years, a demand that has complicated the search for a new premier.
Two political heavyweights have already said they were not taking part in talks on a new PM: former premier Haider al Abadi and cleric Moqtada Sadr, who had backed the previous government until protests erupted.
“They’re aware the bar is too high and it’s too difficult for them to please the street,” said Hasan.
But a totally new player is unlikely to be trusted by the established political class.
“The discussions now are over someone from the second or third tier of politicians,” the government source said. “It’s not possible to have someone new. It has to be someone who understands the political machine to push things along.”
The government and political sources both said parties were considering a “transitional” cabinet that would oversee electoral reform before an early parliamentary vote.
“This process will take no less than six months, in order to prepare for new elections according to a new electoral commission,” the official said.
Abdel Mahdi, 77, is the first premier to step down since Iraq adopted a parliamentary system following the US-led invasion that toppled ex-ruler Saddam Hussein in 2003. — AFP