Iraqi president Barham Salih has threatened to resign rather than risk a constitutional crisis by refusing to designate as prime minister a pro-Iranian parliamentary bloc candidate rejected by protesters.
The bloc, headed by powerful Shia militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, nominated Basra governor Asaad al-Eidani, who stands accused of ordering security forces to fire on demonstrators in the hotbed southern port city. Since the uprising erupted in early October, 500 protesters have died and 17,000 have been wounded.
“Out of my desire to stop bloodshed and maintain peace, and with due respect to Asaad al-Eidani, I refuse to nominate him. Therefore I put my willingness to resign the post of president to members of parliament so that they decide as representatives of the people what they see fit,” said Salih.
In Baghdad’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square, the capital’s uprising hub, protesters unfurled a banner reading: “Thank you Barham for siding with the demands of the people and rejecting the candidates of corrupt parties. We are with you.” He also has the support of nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose parliamentary party supports the uprising and opposition factions.
Since parliament must choose a replacement who, under the constitution, would nominate a new prime minister, Salih's resignation could deepen Iraq's political deadlock. Until his successor is chosen, the parliamentary speaker would assume the presidency. This would leave Iraq with an interim president and a caretaker cabinet under prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who resigned last month.
Consequently the government would not be in a strong position to tackle the demands of tens of thousands of Iraqis protesting against mismanagement and corruption, which has deprived them of security, water, electricity, jobs, schools and healthcare, although Iraq earns $60-70 billion from oil exports annually.
Parliament is in a precarious position. Although it has passed a new electoral law, the measure falls far short of protesters’ demand for change. Under the new law, independents rather than party lists can stand for seats in electoral districts.
However, parties can be expected to back independents who would revert to their sponsors. This would maintain the current ethno-sectarian political system, which allocates the presidency to the Kurds, the prime ministry to the Shias, and the parliamentary speakership to the Sunnis.
Protesters demand the ousting of the present political class and fresh elections under a secular presidential system.
The uprising has been wrongly blamed for the resurgence of Islamic State, which began attacks on military and civilian targets well before protests began. Politicians and officers seek to divert attention from the failure of the army to capture or kill jihadi fugitives and of the government to halt Shia militia persecution of Sunnis and rebuild Sunni towns and villages devastated during the campaign to eradicate Islamic State.
Aware they have no option but to fight as no country is prepared to offer them sanctuary, the jihadis have gone underground, regrouped and purchased weapons, vehicles, and other equipment with funds from well-stocked war chests to wage their war for survival.