FRI 18 - 1 - 2019
Sep 4, 2018
The Daily Star
Iraq’s Parliament meets as blocs vie for power
BAGHDAD: Iraq’s newly elected Parliament held its first session on Monday as two blocs, both claiming to hold the most seats, vied for the right to form a new government. The session opened with a prayer and an orchestral performance of the national anthem, as lawmakers convened for the first time since national elections were held in May.
The country’s next leaders will face the mammoth task of rebuilding a country ravaged by the war against extremists as well as tackling public anger over corruption, unemployment and decrepit public services.
Late Sunday 16 political groups including those of Haider al-Abadi and firebrand preacher Moqtada al-Sadr – whose alliance with communists won the most seats in the May 12 polls – announced an accord to create the largest force in Parliament.
But they face a challenge from rivals who also claim to have the upper hand.
Abadi defended his record before lawmakers, saying he had come to power in 2014 at a time when “IS occupied large areas while the security forces were in a state of near-total collapse,” referring to Daesh (ISIS).
One of Abadi’s aides told AFP before Parliament met in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone that his coalition with Sadr and other groups included 177 lawmakers representing more than half of the 329 seats in the legislature.
That could potentially allow Abadi to remain in his post despite coming third in the election with 42 seats. Sadr’s joint list won 54 seats.
A former militia leader who led two uprisings against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the cleric has called for his country to be more independent of both Iran and the United States.
But his alliance with Abadi is being challenged by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has teamed up with a group of former anti-Daesh paramilitary fighters close to Iran. Maliki claimed his bloc had signatures of support from 153 lawmakers which he argued put it in a stronger position than his rivals because they only had signatures from the group leaders.
Maliki’s bloc said it had poached 21 lawmakers from Abadi’s Victory Alliance which, if confirmed, could tip the scales, especially since Kurdish parties are still negotiating with both sides. Those who have switched sides include Falih Alfayyadh, who last week was sacked by the prime minister as head of the powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force.
Abadi Monday named himself chief of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization), which played a major role in fighting Daesh.
Array of challengesMonday lawmakers were sworn in before the session was adjourned.
They will reconvene Tuesday when Parliament is expected to elect a speaker – traditionally a member of Iraq’s Sunni Muslim community – as well two deputy speakers.
After that, lawmakers will have 30 days to elect a new president, a largely symbolic position that traditionally goes to a member of the Kurdish minority.
The new president will then have 15 days to task the biggest parliamentary bloc to form a new government, which will face an array of challenges including the lingering threat posed by extremists.
Abadi declared “victory” in December over Daesh after a devastating three-year war against the Sunni extremists, who at their height controlled nearly a third of the country.
Despite being driven from Iraq’s towns and cities, the extremists continue to stage attacks from their hideouts in remote desert areas.
Suspected Daesh members killed seven people Monday in an attack in a village west of Kirkuk, a multiethnic city north of Baghdad, a security official said.
The raid came less than a day after a man was shot dead outside a mosque north of the capital, in what a police officer said was an extremist attack.
The incoming government also faces a wave of social unrest particularly in southern Iraq, which has been shaken by weeks of protests demanding better public services in a country beset by energy and water shortages.
The meeting of Parliament was delayed by allegations of electoral fraud which prompted the supreme court to order a manual recount that last month confirmed the victory of Sadr’s alliance.
The polls saw a record low turnout of 44.5 percent, with long-time political figures pushed out by voters seeking change in a country mired in conflict and corruption.
Iraq’s political system is designed to ensure that no one person or party can dominate, in order to avoid the return of a dictatorship following the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
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