Iraq’s parliament meets over PM’s cabinet plans, protesters block streets

Several dozen members of parliament held a sit-in overnight in the parliament building to demand Abadi stick to his plans

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Iraq’s parliament began an emergency session on Wednesday at the request of lawmakers who are protesting after plans by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to introduce a cabinet of independent technocrats to curb corruption were blocked.

Several dozen members of parliament held a sit-in overnight in the parliament building to demand Abadi stick to his plans.

In central Basra, the largest city in southern Iraq, several hundred supporters of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr blocked the main street voicing similar demands.

“We’re staying here until our demands are met,” said one demonstrator, setting up a tent in front of the provincial council building.

Sadr, whose opinion holds sway over tens of thousands of followers, agreed to end street protests his supporters had been holding since late February after Abadi presented his line-up for an independent cabinet of technocrats last month.

The 14 names, many of them academics, he put forward were part of reforms aimed at freeing ministries from the grip of a political class he has accused of using a system of ethnic and sectarian quotas instituted after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to amass wealth and influence.

But he was forced to present a modified list on Tuesday after parliament’s dominant political blocs rejected the initial one and insisted on putting forward their own nominations.

The cabinet reshuffle is part of long-promised anti-corruption measures Abadi needs to deliver or risk weakening his government as Iraqi forces mount a campaign to recapture the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants.

Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri was chairing Wednesday’s emergency session, state TV said. The vote on the modified cabinet list is planned on Thursday.

“We represent 137 MPs and we seek to depose the three presidents and discuss the reforms,” said Nahida al-Daini, a Sunni lawmaker, referring to the top three state positions -- the president, prime minister and speaker of parliament.

The dominant blocs in the 328-member parliament back Abadi’s modified line-up, which includes some of their own candidates.

Pressure on Abadi to reform government has come from the clergy of the Shi’ite majority and popular discontent at the lack of basic public services in a nation facing an economic crisis caused by falling oil prices.

Many of the protesters inside parliament are Sadr’s supporters along with some MPs representing the Sunni minority.

Iraq, a major OPEC exporter which sits on one of the world’s largest oil reserves, ranks 161 out of 168 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

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