Iraqi public rejects nomination of Mohammad Al Sudani as next prime minister

Baghdad faces political impasse in choosing next leader

Iraqi protesters march during a anti-government protest in Tahrir square in the capital Baghdad, on December 15, 2019. Iraq's capital and Shiite-majority south have been gripped Since October 1, by rallies against corruption, poor public services, a lack of jobs and Iran's perceived political interference. / AFP / SABAH ARAR
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Iraqi protesters rejected the alleged nomination of Mohammad Al Sudani as the country's next prime minister,  with political leaders still trying to reach a deal to end a stalemate in Baghdad.

Departing Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who had been in office a little more than a year, resigned last month and asked politicians to quickly agree on a successor.

His resignation followed nationwide protests fuelled by anger over political corruption and Iran's influence in Iraqi politics, as well as the government's violent response to the protesters demands.

At least 400 people have been killed and tens of thousands injured in the unrest, the United Nations said.

Mr Abdul Mahdi and his ministers are still serving as a caretaker government until President Barham Salih calls on the parliament's largest bloc to name his successor and a majority approves the new Cabinet.

On Sunday evening, Mr Salih asked Iraq's parliamentary blocs to meet at Baghdad's Peace Palace for discussions on the next prime minister.

A list of potential nominees has been doing the rounds and one of the names on the list is that of Mr Al Sudani, a former member of the country's Islamic Dawa party.

The country's two largest Iran-affiliated political parties – the State of Law coalition, led by former Iraqi PM Nouri Al Maliki, and Hadi Al Ameri's Fatih coalition – put his name forward last week.

However, protesters said they did not want Mr Al Sudani or anyone linked to the previous governments.

"We want someone new who can govern and provide us with good opportunities," Ahmed Hussein, 22, a law student from Baghdad, told The National.

"Our protests were not about the removal of the prime minister, they are much bigger than that. We are fed up of the same system, same faces; we need change and we must have it now," Mr Hussein said.

An Iraqi official said the nomination of a new prime minister alone would not solve the crisis.

"As much as Mohammed Al Sudani may be capable, the head of the coming government must be accepted by the Iraqi people," the official said.

“A small and strong caretaker government should be commissioned with carrying out free elections under an independent commission and fair law,” the official said.

The developments come as demonstrators supporting a powerful Iran-backed militia group in Iraq stormed a plaza in central Baghdad on Saturday, some burning American flags to protest recent US sanctions against key leaders.

Washington has accused Iranian proxy groups such as Asaib Ahl Al Haq for a recent spate of rocket attacks against its military bases in Iraq.

Four Katyusha rockets hit a military base near Baghdad International Airport on December 9 and wounded several Iraqi soldiers.

A week earlier five rockets landed inside the Ain Al Asad airbase, a complex in the western Anbar desert that hosts US forces, but they caused little damage and there were no casualties.

The group has also been accused of being behind deadly attacks on anti-government protesters.

Politicians affiliated with Asaib Ahl Al Haq hold at least 13 seats in Iraq's parliament.

US and Israeli flags, as well as cardboard cutouts of US President Donald Trump were burnt in Baghdad’s Firdous Square, a central plaza that is close to where anti-government demonstrators are taking place.