Demonstrators scale up ambitions to demand overhaul of political process

BAGHDAD – The Iraqi Parliament’s acceptance of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s resignation has pleased anti-government demonstrators, but his departure is not enough for them to end their protests.

After two months of demonstrations in the capital Baghdad and southern provinces, the protesters’ demands have risen to a comprehensive change in the political process.

Abdul Aziz al-Jubouri, a professor at the Media College in Iraqiya University in Baghdad, said Abdul Mahdi’s resignation came after the Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani withdrew the backing of the religious leadership when he called on Parliament to reconsider its support for the government.

“Sistani’s call, which was widely welcomed by the leading political parties, pushed Abdul Mahdi to declare his resignation before being relieved of his duties by the Parliament and also gave a signal to the protesters that he is stepping down to meet their demands,” Jubouri said.

However, the resignation will give momentum to the demonstrators as a sign of their success and will prompt them to increase their demands to include the prosecution of prominent figures in the current political structure, said Jubouri, adding that the new facts imposed on the ground mean any future government must be accepted by the protesters.

After Abdul Mahdi took office in October 2018, he was often caught in the middle of rising tensions between the United States and Iran, with many believing that his government and many of its important officials were too close to Teheran, Jubouri said.

“The protesters are widely rejecting the Iranian influence in Iraq, and in many cases there were rallies in Baghdad and other southern provinces where they chanted anti-Iran slogans,” he said.

Accordingly, relations between Iraq and Iran will be affected by the demonstrations because they show that anti-Iran feelings have been on the rise, Jubouri added.

“Any upcoming government will be under pressure by the demonstrators to curtail foreign interference in Iraq’s internal affairs. Nevertheless, the Iranian and US influence will still have a hand in forming any new government, despite the reduction in their influence,” he said.

Nadhum Ali, an expert on Iranian studies, said Abdul Mahdi’s resignation could open the door to a larger problem, which entails how to change the whole post-2003 political process in Iraq.

During Abdul Mahdi’s year in office, the accusations that he was too close to Iran came despite a pledge when presenting his government program that he would seek balanced relations regionally and internationally.

Ali believes that Abdul Mahdi’s resignation, in effect, puts the ball in the court of the political parties that nominated him a year ago.

“And once again there’s going to be a lot of tough and long negotiations ahead among the political parties that could end up paralyzing the state and see the already shaky country slide into chaos and civil war,” he said.

The protests are likely to continue until Parliament passes a new electoral law and approves a new electoral commission in order to hold early elections, but it will take a long time to meet these constitutional requirements, Ali said.

Under the Iraqi constitution, the largest coalition of parties in Parliament should nominate a candidate for the vacant post to President Barham Salih. who will task the prime minister-designate with forming a cabinet.

The prime minister-designate has 30 days to form a cabinet and present the plan to Parliament for approval. Parliament must approve each minister in separate absolute majority votes.

The mass demonstrations erupted in the capital Baghdad and other cities in central and southern Iraq in early October. Aside from demanding comprehensive reform and efforts against corruption, the protesters want better public services and more job opportunities.

The protest movement is Iraq’s biggest since the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Xinhua – Agencies

 Iraqi PM's exit gives protesters a boost

A medical crew carry a wounded man during ongoing protests in Najaf, Iraq, on Sunday. Alaa Almarjani / Reuters

(China Daily 12/03/2019 page11)

Source link