Iraq court bars veteran Kurdish politician from presidency

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s top court banned a veteran Kurdish politician from the country’s presidency on Sunday, citing lingering corruption allegations.

Hoshyar Zebari, a former foreign minister and longtime Iraqi diplomat, had been a front-runner competing against the sitting president, Barham Salih. In Iraq’s political system, parliament votes to pick the president who in turn appoints the prime minister.

Zebari’s bid was supported by powerful Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose bloc emerged as the winner in the Oct. 10 parliamentary elections. Sunday’s ruling is likely to prolong a standoff between factions over who should be the country’s next president and prime minister.

The Federal Supreme Court last week temporarily suspended Zebari’s nomination after four lawmakers filed a petition. That decision delayed the parliament vote to choose a new president that was scheduled for February 7, because many members boycotted the session in support of Zebari.

At a press conference held following Sunday’s court verdict, Zebari said court’s decision was politically motivated and called it an ”injustice.”

The corruption allegations against him stem from his time as finance minister, when he was dismissed in 2016 over alleged graft. He was never convicted.

Zebari is the nominee for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) for the position, competing against Salih.

Salih now has a greater chance of retaining his position, unless the KDP replaces Zebari with another nominee. The KDP holds 31 seats in Iraq’s 329-member Parliament following the October election, which is the higher than any other Kurdish party. Saleh represents the KDP’s main rival in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

The court also decided that Barham Salih maintains his position as president until the election of a new president.