AP NEWS

Iran-backed groups accuse Iraqi president of caving to US

December 27, 2019 GMT
A protester walks past a poster with a defaced picture of the governor of the southern Basra province Asaad al-Eidani and Arabic that reads "rejected by the people," during the ongoing protests, in Tahrir square, in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2019. An Iranian-backed bloc in Iraq’s parliament proposed al-Eidani as the country’s next prime minister. However, the nomination was promptly rejected by Iraqi protesters who want an independent candidate to take over the government. Earlier on Wednesday, outgoing higher education minister, who had also been rejected by protesters on the streets, withdrew his nomination for prime minister. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
A protester walks past a poster with a defaced picture of the governor of the southern Basra province Asaad al-Eidani and Arabic that reads "rejected by the people," during the ongoing protests, in Tahrir square, in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2019. An Iranian-backed bloc in Iraq’s parliament proposed al-Eidani as the country’s next prime minister. However, the nomination was promptly rejected by Iraqi protesters who want an independent candidate to take over the government. Earlier on Wednesday, outgoing higher education minister, who had also been rejected by protesters on the streets, withdrew his nomination for prime minister. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iran-supported groups on Friday blasted Iraq’s president for not naming their preferred prime minister candidate, saying his decision was at the behest of the United States, and warned him not to designate anyone who could be “an agent of the Americans.”

In refusing to appoint Fatah-backed candidate Asaad al-Eidani on Thursday, President Barham Salih said he was responding to broad opposition by anti-government protesters who have flooded the streets for nearly three months to demand the overthrow of Iraq’s entire political class.

The protesters accuse the government of corruption and mismanagement and have demanded an independent prime minister candidate. O n Friday evening, thousands of them poured into Baghdad’s Tahrir Square to express their support for Salih’s decision.

But in a statement Friday, the Hezbollah Brigades, or Kataeb Hezbollah, called the president’s move “suspicious.”

“We know that he is carrying out an American will that aims to pull the country toward chaos,” the statement said.

Legislator Odai Awad, a member of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, called Salih a coward in an interview with a local TV station and said “every Iraqi should spit in the face of the president for what he did.”

The Iran-affiliated groups said the president had violated the constitution “by refusing to carry out his duties” to name the candidate chosen by parliament’s largest bloc.

Since last year’s elections, however, politicians have disagreed over which bloc is the largest, a dispute that has led them to twice miss the deadline for naming a new premier.

There are two main blocs in the Iraqi Parliament: Sairoon, led by populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr; and Fatah, headed by Hadi al-Amiri. But the numbers in the blocs have continued to change since the elections, with an unknown number of lawmakers leaving some blocs and joining others.

In a statement Friday, protesters called the Iran-backed groups “blocs of corruption” that are doing everything they can to ensure that sects and ethnic groups hold the country’s top posts.

Later Friday, two mortar shells hit an arms depot at a base hosting U.S. troops near the northern city of Kirkuk, wounding two Iraqi soldiers, an Iraqi official said. No Americans were hurt, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.

Such attacks have taken place on several occasions over the past few months, with U.S. officials for the most part blaming Iran-backed fighters.

Also Friday, in a sign of the country’s deep divisions, a representative of Iraq’s most powerful religious authority, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, did not deliver a political sermon Friday, instead restricting his comments to religion.

Iraq has been roiled by protests since Oct. 1 that have left more than 450 people dead, the vast majority of them demonstrators killed by security forces firing tear gas and live ammunition. The mass uprisings prompted the resignation of former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi late last month.

Salih said Thursday that he would not name al-Eidani, the governor of southern Basra province, as the country’s next prime minister “to avoid more bloodshed and in order to safeguard civil peace.”