Iraq... A statement from the Prime Minister's office in response to the "unjust smear campaigns"

Iraq… A statement from the Prime Minister’s office in response to the “unjust smear campaigns”

On Wednesday, Iraq entered the longest period of stagnation after elections, as internal conflict, mainly within Shiite and Kurdish blocs, prevented the formation of a government, which hinders required reforms, while the country is striving to recover after decades of conflicts.

More than nine months after holding elections in October, lawmakers tasked with choosing a president and prime minister did not seem close to agreeing on anything, leaving Iraq a record 290 days without a president or government.

The longest previous period was in 2010 when 289 days passed without a government until Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki assumed a second term in office.

The outgoing government of Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi continues to conduct business. If the parties do not agree on a new government, Al-Kazemi’s government may continue as a transitional government until new elections are held.

And in a sign that this stalemate will not be broken soon anyway, thousands of supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr stormed the Iraqi parliament building on Wednesday, chanting slogans against his Shiite political rivals, days after they hinted at a deal over a possible prime minister.

This political paralysis has left Iraq without a general budget for 2022, halting spending on much needed infrastructure projects and stalling economic reforms.

Iraqis say this situation is exacerbating the lack of services and jobs, even as Baghdad achieves record oil revenues due to high crude prices, and although it has not experienced major conflicts since the defeat of ISIS five years ago.

“There is no government, there is no budget, the streets are full of potholes, electricity and water are scarce, health care and education are dilapidated,” said Muhammad Muhammad, a 68-year-old retired public sector employee who lives in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

The same circumstances described by Muhammad sparked mass protests in Baghdad and southern Iraq in 2019.

At the time, the demonstrators demanded the departure of the parties that had been in power since the US-led invasion in 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein’s rule, accusing them of corruption that prevented Iraq’s progress. Hundreds of protesters were killed by security forces and armed factions, and protests gradually stopped in 2020.

Al-Kazemi assumed responsibility as a consensual candidate following the protests and promised to punish the killers of the demonstrators and to hold early elections on the tenth of October.

Most of those who protested in the past lost hope for change.

“The government, whoever it is, will be made up of individuals and parties that participated in the killing of our friends,” said Ali al-Khayali, an anti-government activist who took part in the demonstrations.

Bickering parties

Forming a government in Iraq usually takes months and requires winning the support of all the major political parties.

Since Saddam’s overthrow, the Shiite parties, which represent the majority of the population in Iraq, retain the position of prime minister, the Kurds are the head of the country, and the Sunnis are the head of parliament.

The growing divisions between these blocs prolonged the government formation process severely this time.

In the Shiite camp, Sadr, who won the most votes in the October elections, withdrew his 74 deputies from parliament last month after he failed to form a government that excludes his Shiite rivals, most of whom are backed by Iran and have heavily armed wings.

With this withdrawal, al-Sadr left dozens of these seats to his rivals, but he indicated that he, his faction and his popular base, which includes millions, would not stand silent if they tried to form a government that he did not agree with.

Several hundred al-Sadr supporters demolished a concrete barrier and entered the Green Zone, which includes government buildings, on Wednesday, before storming Parliament.

Al-Sadr effectively prevented this month from nominating his arch-rival Al-Maliki, accusing the former prime minister of corruption in a tweet on Twitter.

Al-Sadr’s rivals put forward another candidate, Muhammad Shia Al-Sudani, for prime minister, but Al-Sadr may also oppose his candidacy because he is an ally of Al-Maliki.

“Al-Sudani is just a shadow of Al-Maliki,” said a member of Al-Sadr’s political party, who asked not to be identified.

“We will demonstrate until the politicians and corrupt groups backed by Iran leave,” said Sheikh Safa al-Baghdadi, a religious teacher, shortly before the demonstrators stormed parliament.

On the other hand, differences between the main Kurdish parties that run the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq prevent the selection of a president, a position that allows its holder, once approved by Parliament, to appoint a prime minister.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan has held the presidency since 2003.

His rival, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which received the largest number of Kurdish votes by a large margin, sticks to its presidential candidate. And neither side appears willing to budge.

“We have not been able to agree yet,” said Shirwan Al-Dobardani, a parliamentarian from the Kurdistan Democratic Party. “The president’s post should not remain in the hands of one party forever.”

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