Iraq's delay in forming government puts reform at risk, says UN

Top officials at loggerheads over how to divide and allocate Cabinet positions four months after elections

UN envoy to Iraq Jeanin Hennis-Plasschaert said many Iraqis wonder whether the national interest is front and centre in ongoing negotiations. EPA

Iraq’s government formation stalemate must end before it further "hampers change and reform" four months after national elections were held, the UN said on Thursday.

Iraqis voted for a new government in October. A bloc led by populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr emerged as the largest group in parliament with 73 of the 329 seats.

Since then, however, backroom negotiations between dominant political parties have failed to reach agreement on electing a new president, who must then nominate a prime minister to form the government.

They remain at loggerheads over how to divide and allocate top government positions.

"Many Iraqis increasingly wonder whether the national interest is actually front and centre in the ongoing negotiations – rather than access to resources and power, or how the pie of political appointments and ministries will be carved this time around,” the UN envoy to Iraq, Jeanin Hennis-Plasschaert, said in an address to the UN Security Council.

“Needless to say, the priority should be to urgently agree on a programme of action that immediately and meaningfully tackles Iraq’s long list of outstanding domestic business.”

The patience of the Iraqi people is being tested, she said.

“The elections are over four months behind us and it is high time to return the spotlight where it deserves to be – on the people of Iraq.”

Iraq’s political system is divided among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political parties.

Top positions, such as the presidency, are reserved for a nominee of the two main Kurdish parties, while Shiites get the prime minister’s post and Sunnis get the parliamentary speaker's position.

Meeting aspirations of 40 million people

Ms Hennis-Plasschaert said politicians in Baghdad must hurry to overcome their differences and start dealing with issues affecting the people.

She said there must be “a sense of urgency to overcome internal divisions, to agree on a programme informing Iraqis on what they can expect in the next four years, to manage public expectations and to rise to the challenge of meeting the aspirations of the 40 million people who call Iraq home".

The political divisions are between Mr Al Sadr’s party, the Sunni parliament speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi’s Taqadum group, which won 37 seats, and former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki’s State of Law bloc, with 35 seats.

The Iran-backed Fatah Alliance, made up mainly of Shiite militias, which won only 14 seats compared to 48 seats the 2018 elections, has rejected the results.

Candidates not affiliated to the major political groups won about 50 seats.

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Updated: February 25, 2022, 9:24 AM