March 1, 2020 / 7:00 PM / a month ago

Iraqi parliament adjourns session to approve new cabinet for second time

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s parliament adjourned a session to approve the cabinet proposed by Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Allawi for the second time in days on Sunday because not enough lawmakers had turned up to make any vote official.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi arrives at the parliament headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily

Lawmakers had already failed to agree on a new government on Thursday, prolonging deadlock and delaying attempts to resolve unprecedented mass unrest and has stalled the country’s recovery from years of war.

Political infighting and alleged widespread corruption have crippled Iraq’s efforts to recover from two U.S. invasions, sanctions and the war to defeat Islamic State in 2017.

The country faces a mass protest movement that broke out in October and brought down former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi two months later. His cabinet has stayed on in a caretaker capacity.

The protests, which first demanded jobs and services, quickly turned into calls for the removal of Iraq’s entire ruling elite. Protesters oppose Allawi because they view him as part of the system they want to bring down.

Lawmakers have until Monday to agree a cabinet or President Barham Salih will need to designate a new candidate for prime minister, according to the constitution.

Abdul Mahdi issued a statement late on Sunday denying social media reports that he wanted to stay on, saying he will announce his intentions on Monday after the deadline had passed.

Security forces and powerful militia groups have shot dead hundreds of mostly unarmed demonstrators. Around 500 people have been killed in unrest since October, most of them protesters, according to a Reuters tally from medics and police.

On Sunday, security forces killed one person and wounded 24 at an anti-government protest in Baghdad, a police source said.

The number of protesters has reduced somewhat, but demonstrations continue on a daily basis.

Allawi issued a long list of promises when he was nominated this month: to hold early elections, punish people who killed protesters, end foreign interference and check the power of non-state armed groups - an ambitious programme for a prime minister who has no particular party behind him.

Abdul Mahdi became beholden to the interests of Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary groups and other parties that have a strong representation in parliament and control government posts.

Government officials say Allawi’s cabinet selection was heavily influenced by renegade Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has gained from the general chaos in Iraq after the United States killed a senior Iranian commander in Baghdad in January.

Sunni and Kurdish political groups who stood to lose portfolios in a cabinet of ostensible independents have vehemently opposed Allawi’s choices.

Reporting by Ulf Laessing, Ahme Abouleinem and Baghdad newsroom; Editing by Mark Potter

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