Former Najaf governor Adnan Al Zurfi appointed Iraq's prime minister-designate

Iraqi President Barham Salih gives Al Zurfi task of forming new government

Iraq President Barham Salih, left, with Prime Minister-designate Adnan Al Zurufi at the commissioning ceremony on March 17, 2020. Image @IraqiPresidency via Twitter
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Iraqi President Barham Salih has appointed a former governor of Najaf province to be the country’s next prime minister-designate.

Adnan Al Zurfi is a former official of the US-run authorities who took over Iraq after the 2003 invasion to remove Saddam Hussein.

Mr Al Zurfi, 54, is head of the Nasr parliamentary grouping of former prime minister Haider Al Abadi, also a US ally.

He has 30 days to form his cabinet, which must then be put to a vote of confidence in Iraq’s divided Parliament.

Mr Al Zurfi is the second man chosen to try to form a government since prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned in late November.

Political factions had intensely debated names for days, seeking a “non-confrontational” figure to preserve the status quo, a senior government source told AFP.

Mr Abdul Mahdi’s resignation followed mass rallies against the government, which protesters regard as corrupt, inept and beholden to powerful neighbour Iran.

His position became untenable when Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani withdrew support after security troops killed 32 protesters in hours at a rally in the southern city of Nassiriya.

The country has been rocked by mass protests since October.

In the ensuing government response, more than 500 protesters were killed and thousands were wounded by soldiers and Iran-backed militias.

Mohammed Allawi was first chosen to replace Mr Abdul Mahdi in February but withdrew his nomination after failing to win the support of enough MPs to secure a vote of confidence.

The country has been at a political deadlock with infighting between Shiite factions, and disputes with Kurdish and Sunni politicians to find a consensus for the new government.

One of the major obstacles that Mr Allawi failed to clear was the appointment of ministers.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 25, 2005 Adnan al-Zurfi, former governor of Najaf, speaks to press at the Human Right Center in Baghdad.  Iraq president names ex-Najaf governor Adnan Zurfi as premier, according to state TV.

He pledged to build an independent government to meet the demands of demonstrators but parliamentary parties who usually propose names based on their numbers of seats insisted on having their say.

While the protest movement has waned in recent weeks, it is still present.

At least 30 demonstrators were wounded on Monday evening in Baghdad when government forces moved on a camp in Khilani Square.

Mr Al Zurfi’s appointment comes as coronavirus spreads across Iraq.

The country announced a curfew from Tuesday evening as it seeks to contain the spread of the virus, which has already infected at least 93 people.

Meanwhile, two rockets hit the Besmaya military base about 60 kilometres south of Baghdad on Tuesday before dawn, the Iraqi military said.

The US-led coalition and Nato have troops stationed there. It was the third attack on international soldiers in the past week.

The Iraqi military made no mention of casualties and a Nato spokesman told AFP that none of its troops was hurt in the attack.