Iraq deadline to appoint PM looms, protesters adamant

The deadline to appoint a PM in Iraq nears as protesters continue relentless protests

Amid ongoing anti-government protests in Tahrir square of Baghdad, protestors display the faces of the rejected candidates crossed out in red on the posters.

Iraqi political leaders agreed on Thursday to delay appointing a new Prime Minister after the constitutional deadline expired in a country shaken by months of unprecedented protests, leaving hundreds dead.

Parliament was due to propose a candidate before midnight to replace premier Adel Abdel Mahdi, who resigned in November, as the death toll mounted in massive demonstrations against official graft and lack of jobs.

Since no consensus emerged between parliamentary blocs, a source within the presidency told AFP that authorities have agreed to push the deadline to Sunday, after Iraq's Friday-Saturday weekend.

Once a name is proposed, lawmakers will then submit it to President Barham Saleh, who will put it to vote in parliament.

If the candidate does not gain the majority of votes, Saleh will have the right to put forward his own candidate. But if parliament does not accept this, then the constitution stipulates that Saleh would become the de facto head of the resigned cabinet for 15 days.

The current parliament is the most divided in Iraq's recent history.

On Wednesday, deputies failed to agree on amending the electoral law- the only significant reform proposed to appease protesters' demands, thus rescheduling the vote to parliament's next meeting on Monday.

Following elections last year, no bloc was able to establish the majority necessary to put its nomination for the premier to a vote. Instead, the parties agreed on an independent candidate with no base of his own- Abdel Mahdi.

He lasted a year, before resigning in November, after two months of unprecedented anti-government protests in capital Baghdad and Shiite-majority south, marked by 460 killed and 25,000 injured protesters.

Despite his resignation, protests have continued in the face of brutal repression, killings, abductions, and chilly winter.

Several names for the premiership are still circulating, hours before the expiration of the constitutional deadline.

Although all are insiders in a political system, rejected in its entirety by protesters, yet also oppose the growing influence of Iran- a vital powerbroker in Iraqi politics.

Outgoing higher education minister Qusay al-Suhail has been presented by officials as the candidate of Iran for several weeks.

A former key member of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr's movement, Suhail rejoined the State of Law Alliance of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki- close to Iran and enemy of Sadr, and seemed to have become the favourite for the premiership.

In Baghdad's Tahrir Square, posters display the faces of the rejected candidates crossed out in red.

On Wednesday, Mohammed al-Soudani, a former minister and ex-governor, presented himself, only to be rejected, in Najaf to be endorsed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani- a longtime kingmaker in Iraqi politics, according to sources in the Shiite shrine city.

Wary of the anger on streets, the 89-year-old cleric, the highest religious authority for the majority of Iraqi Shiites, had already declared he did not want to be involved in the formation of the new government.

Several politicians told AFP that Saleh held the card for the 11th hour: Intelligence Chief Moustafa al-Kazemi, backed by the United States.

On Wednesday Fayeq al-Sheikh Ali, an outspoken liberal lawmaker who defends the right to drink alcohol and is critical of Iraq's endemic corruption presented his own nomination to the President.

The day before he had asked in a Twitter survey, "Should I submit my own candidacy?" to which 73 per cent of nearly 1,00,000 voters had replied, "yes".

The security situation meanwhile has worsened, with recent rocket attacks on American bases.

Ten security incidents in two months have prompted the United States to send military reinforcements to the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad- home to its embassy.

US diplomatic staff have been reduced with the consulate in Basra closed. 

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