Iraq PM given three days to form new cabinet

Iraq’s parliament on Monday gave prime minister Haider Al Abadi three days to present a new non-party cabinet after supporters of cleric Moqtada Al Sadr began a sit-in inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.

Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr take part in a sit-in inside Baghdad's heavily guarded Green Zone on March, 28, 2016, calling for reforms tackling corruption and to announce a technocratic government to replace the current cabinet of party-affiliated ministers.   AFP / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE
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BAGHDAD // Iraq’s parliament on Monday gave prime minister Haider Al Abadi three days to present a new non-party cabinet to fight corruption or risk a no-confidence vote.

A flash on state television called Thursday the “final deadline” for Mr Al Abadi, who said more than six weeks ago that he would replace ministers with technocrats unaffiliated with political parties.

But other politicians, including some within his own party, have pushed back against a reshuffle, fearing it could weaken the political patronage networks that have sustained their wealth and influence for more than a decade.

Powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, whose supporters are staging protests to demand reforms, on Sunday began a sit-in inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses embassies and government offices.

His supporters continued their week-old sit-in outside the district’s gates, huddling in tents and under umbrellas in heavy rain. They also demonstrated in the southern city of Basra.

Mr Al Sadr, whose tens of thousands of supporters include Shiite fighters who helped defend Baghdad against ISIL militants in 2014, has re-emerged as a leader in matters of state in recent months.

An MP from the Sadr bloc in parliament said Mr Al Abadi would be questioned in Saturday’s parliament session if he did not meet the deadline. “This will be the start of a number of steps leading to a no confidence vote,” Yasir Al Husseini said.

Failing to deliver on long-promised anti-corruption measures could weaken Mr Al Abadi’s government just as Iraqi forces are gearing up to try and recapture the northern city of Mosul from ISIL.

Support in parliament for withdrawing confidence from Mr Al Abadi did not appear unanimous on Monday.

Abbas Al Bayati, from Mr Al Abadi’s ruling National Alliance coalition, said MPs would want an explanation for any further delay of reform steps but had not agreed to pursue a no confidence vote.

“Between now and Thursday is sufficient and if he cannot do it by then, he should come and clarify why in order to convince the blocs and the street,” Mr Al Bayati said.

He said Mr Al Abadi had drawn up a preliminary list of candidates for the new cabinet and coalition leaders were consulting with Sunni, Kurdish and other Shiite politicians “to create a balanced list that has the standards of professionalism and technocratic experience”.

An US-based Iraqi academic, Abbas Kadhim, tweeted last week that he had been shortlisted for foreign minister, and a government source said senior ministry civil servants might be elevated to fill some positions.

Political analyst Fadhil Abu Ragheef said new technocrat ministers would likely come from Iraq’s existing parties and blocs. “They will not bring anything new,” he said. “This is about changing the facade only; the core will remain the same.”

* Reuters