Iraqi PM given ultimatum on cabinet reshuffle

Iraqi lawmakers are giving Haider al-Abadi a “final deadline” to present a new non-party cabinet by Thursday.

Iraqi Shi''ite Muslim leader Moqtada al-Sadr sits inside his tent during his sit-in inside the heavily guarded Green Zone in Baghdad
Iraqi Shia Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr sits inside his tent during his sit-in inside the Green Zone in Baghdad [Wissm al-Okili/Reuters]

Iraq’s parliament has given Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi until Thursday to present a new non-party cabinet to fight corruption or potentially face a no-confidence vote amid street protests piling on the pressure for action.

Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf on the significance of the sit-in

Baghdad, Iraq – This sit-in was seemingly a simple gesture, a few small steps into the Green Zone. But it carried huge political ramifications and it speaks volumes.

Al-Sadr formerly led a militia against American and Iraqi forces; he is now a mainstream political figure.

He has threatened that his followers will storm the Green Zone if his political demands aren\’t met.

This is significant is because al-Sadr very rarely leaves Najaf, the city where he lives.

This is one of the few cases where his followers have seen him up close. People were weeping as he spoke.

He went into the Green Zone and he was kissed and greeted by senior Iraqi security officials. He sat down on the pavement.

That again speaks volumes. He says he is a man of the people and he is speaking for all of Iraq.

This is a way to put pressure on the Iraqi government. He says he intends to stay there until the reforms are made.

The Iraqi government, Prime Minister al-Abadi, wants the reforms. He is trying to reshuffle the cabinet but there is a lot of political resistance to this.

He now has on his doorstep, almost literally, one of his leading political rivals basically waiting for him to do something.

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

Yet 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 Shia Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Sunday launched a personal sit-in inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, after previously setting but later canceling Monday as the deadline.

The green zone houses embassies and government offices.

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

Read more: Iraq cleric Muqtada al-Sadr starts Green Zone sit-in

Sadr, who commands the loyalty of tens of thousands of supporters, including Shia fighters who helped defend Baghdad against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in 2014, has re-emerged as a leader in matters of state in recent months.

“If Abadi does not present his new government by Thursday, then he will be questioned in Saturday’s (parliamentary session),” said Sadr bloc MP Yasir al-Husseini.

“This will be the start of a number of steps leading to a no-confidence vote.”

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

‘Create a balanced list’

Abbas al-Bayati, an MP from Abadi’s ruling National Alliance coalition, said politicians 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,” Bayati told Reuters news agency.

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

It was not clear which ministers were likely to be replaced but analysts doubted that substantive change was in the works.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies