Iraqi PM Abadi weakened as Sistani appears to withdraw support

The Grand Ayatollah says he will not back any returning former leader

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks during the first session of the new Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq, September 3, 2018 in this still image taken from a video. IRAQIYA TV POOL/REUTERS TV/via REUTERS
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Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi looks increasingly unlikely to secure a second term as former allies and leading figures blame him for the fallout from violent protests in Basra.

On Monday, the office of the country's highest Shiite authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, appeared to say he would not support any former prime ministers returning to the top post.

This followed populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr abandoning his alliance with Mr Abadi after a Saturday parliament session called by Mr Sadr to address the situation in Basra.

At least 15 protesters have been killed and government offices, political party headquarters and the Iranian consulate burned in the last week in an outpouring of public anger at Iraq’s ruling class and its lack of response to failing services in the oil rich city.

Prime Minister Abadi travelled to Basra on Monday to meet with officials but his visit was described as a “cheap” by protesters who demanded he leave the city.

"They are making a mockery of the blood of our martyrs," said Waleed Al Ansari, one of the protest organisers told the Associated Press. "We want services."


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This public anger has been used against Abadi by his rivals as lawmakers in Baghdad remain deadlocked on choosing a prime minister, following May elections.

Mr Sadr has joined the prime minister’s rivals pro-Iran Shiite militia leader Hadi Al Amiri and former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki in calling on Mr Abadi to resign

Mr Sadr's election list came in first in the polls, winning 54 seats in the 329-seat legislative body, while Mr Abadi's list came in third, with 42 seats.

After meeting last Monday for the first time since May’s election, parliament has put off its next meeting until September 15, having failed on Monday to elect a speaker, which ought to have been the first step in forming a new government.