Iran-backed groups accuse Iraqi president of caving to US

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Iran-backed groups on Friday blasted Iraq’s president for not naming their preferred prime minister candidate, saying his decision was at the behest of the United States, and warned him to not name anyone who could be “an agent of the Americans.”

In refusing to appoint Fatah-backed candidate Asaad al-Eidani on Thursday, President Barham Salih said he was responding to broad opposition by anti-government protesters who have flooded the streets for nearly three months to demand the overthrow of Iraq’s entire political class.

The protesters, who accuse the government of corruption and mismanagement, poured into the streets Wednesday demanding an independent candidate for prime minister.

But in a statement Friday, the Hezbollah Brigades, or Kataeb Hezbollah, called Salih’s move “suspicious.”

“We know that he is carrying out an American will that aims to pull the country toward chaos,” the statement said.

Legislator Odai Awad, a member of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, called Salih a coward in an interview with a local TV station and said “every Iraqi should spit in the face of the president for what he did.”

The Iran-affiliated groups said the president had violated the constitution “by refusing to carry out his duties” to name the candidate chosen by parliament’s largest bloc.

Since last year’s elections, however, politicians have disagreed over which bloc is the largest, a dispute that has led them to twice miss the deadline for naming a new premier.

There are two main blocs in the Iraqi Parliament: Sairoon, led by populist Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr; and Fatah, headed by Hadi al-Amiri. But the numbers in the blocs have continued to change since the elections, with an unknown number of lawmakers leaving some blocs and joining others.

In a statement Friday, protesters called the Iran-backed groups “blocs of corruption” that are doing everything they can to ensure that sects and ethnic groups hold the country’s top posts.

On Thursday, the protesters gathered in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, which has emerged as a focal point of their demonstrations, to celebrate the president’s decision, while a post on a Facebook page close to al-Sadr thanked Salih for “rejecting the candidates that the people reject, a position that history, and the (Iraqi) people and the (Shia religious) authority will record.”

In a sign of the country’s deep divisions, a representative of Iraq’s most powerful religious authority, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, did not deliver a political sermon Friday, instead restricting his comments to religion.

Iraq has been roiled by protests since October 1 that have left more than 450 people dead, the vast majority of them demonstrators killed by security forces firing tear gas and live ammunition.

The mass uprisings prompted the resignation of former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi late last month.

Salih said Thursday that he would not name al-Eidani, the governor of southern Basra province, as the country’s next prime minister “to avoid more bloodshed and in order to safeguard civil peace.”