Iraq's former PM calls for an end to sit-in protest at parliament

Thousands of demonstrators loyal to Shiite cleric and political leader Moqtada Al Sadr stormed parliament on July 30

Supporters of Iraqi cleric Moqtada Al Sadr perform Friday prayers inside Baghdad's Green Zone. They are opposed to the nomination of an ally of Nouri Al Maliki as prime minister. EPA
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Former Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al Maliki has called for an immediate end to the occupation of parliament so his party and its allies can convene to form the next government.

Thousands of protesters loyal to Shiite cleric and political leader Moqtada Al Sadr stormed parliament on July 30, protesting against the nomination of Muhammad Al Sudani for prime minister.

Mr Al Sudani is a former Cabinet minister regarded as being close to Mr Al Maliki, a political opponent of Mr Al Sadr.

Since then, the protesters have left the parliament building itself, but remain camped outside in Baghdad's Green Zone, the seat of government power that includes offices and residences of Iraq's elites, as well as foreign embassies.

"There is no solution for parliament and no early elections without the return of parliamentary sessions," Mr Al Maliki said on Monday night.

Parliament alone "discusses these demands and what it decides we will execute", he said in a speech marking the Shiite mourning ritual of Ashura.

Mr Al Sadr has also called for early elections after withdrawing his 73 MPs from the 329-member chamber in June, in protest at what he called a corrupt political system.

That placed the rival coalition, the Iran-aligned Co-ordination Framework, in pole position to form the next government after their parties, including Mr Al Maliki’s State of Law coalition, gained Mr Al Sadr’s vacant seats.

As the sit-in continues, Mr Al Sadr said that dissolving the Iraqi parliament has become a popular demand, but Mr Al Maliki has said that few Iraqis are likely to vote in another national election.

October's elections had been called early, following an almost nationwide protest movement against the country's elite, which was met with bloody crackdowns.

The Iraqi constitution stipulates that a legislature can be dissolved only through a vote passed by an absolute majority. A vote can be requested by a third of MPs, or by the prime minister with the president's approval.

Since October’s national elections more than 10 months ago, Iraq’s political parties have been unable to form a government.

Building a government involves selecting a president first, who then announces the largest political bloc in parliament and gives them the task of nominating a prime minister, who then selects Cabinet members.

However, this process has been derailed by political bickering, including claims of electoral fraud and boycotts of parliament. These stopped the election of a president.

A row between Kurdish parties over who to select as president — the Kurds hold the presidency under an informal agreement — and a series of Supreme Court challenges made against candidates nominated by Mr Al Sadr's allies, have further prolonged this process.

Since the US-led invasion of 2003, the position of prime minister has traditionally been held by a Shiite Arab, that of parliamentary speaker by a Sunni Arab and the presidency by a Kurd.

Updated: August 09, 2022, 7:18 AM