US reaffirms support to Iraqi leader Abadi

Washington's support comes while the premier scrambles to put together a technocratic cabinet to fix the country's crippling problems

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US Vice President Joe Biden offered Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi the support of the United States in the country’s political reform efforts, the White House said on Friday.

It said that in a phone call with Abadi, Biden “also underscored the critical importance of sustaining momentum” in fighting ISIS and “reviewed ongoing U.S. efforts to support Iraqi Security Forces.”

The prime minister proposed a new Cabinet lineup to the country’s lawmakers on Thursday, after weeks of pressure from supporters of a radical Shiite cleric who have staged rallies in the Iraqi capital and a sit-in next to the government headquarters to demand reforms.

The political crisis has rocked Baghdad and put a significant burden on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, threatening to become a more destabilizing factor - at least in the eyes of the domestic audience - than the authorities’ battle against ISIS.

Abadi came before the parliament on Thursday to tell lawmakers that he has reduced the number of Cabinet ministers to 16, from the previous 21-member government. He submitted the names of nominees for 14 ministerial positions, but said he would not replace the current defense and interior ministers, “given the current hard situation.”

The parliament now has 10 days to confirm Abadi’s nominees - or potentially gridlock the process further.

Yet Abadi's moves to get a new cabinet together have not been smooth sailing.

Abadi's nominee for the oil minister, Nizar Saleem Numan, said on Friday he is no longer seeking the position as there is no political agreement on the shape of the new government.

The government crisis comes against the backdrop of weeks of protests by thousands of followers of the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

His supporters have continued their sit-in outside the Iraqi capital’s heavily fortified Green Zone, following the cleric’s calls for political reform and an end to corruption. On Sunday, al-Sadr ramped up the pressure on the government by himself launching a separate sit-in inside the Green Zone, which is home to key government offices and foreign embassies.

(With Reuters and the Associated Press)

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