Parliament in crisis-hit Iraq vows to elect new president

AFP , Tuesday 11 Oct 2022

Iraq's parliament will meet Thursday to "elect the president", speaker Mohammed al-Halbussi's office said, in a surprise move seen at trying to end months of political impasse.

Iraqi Parliament
File Photo: Iraqi Parliament. AP


The oil-rich but troubled country has already made three failed attempts this year to elect a new head of state, in February and March.

More than a year after Iraq's last general election, Halbussi's office said Tuesday that the parliamentary session two days later would have "a single item on the agenda, the election of the president of the Republic".

Iraqis last voted on October 10, 2021 in a general election brought forward by a wave of mass protests against endemic corruption, rampant unemployment and decaying infrastructure.

Ahead of Halbussi's announcement, the United Nations mission had urged political factions to end the deadlock, warning that "Iraq is running out of time".

The country has yet to form a new government after the 2021 election, leaving caretaker Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi in charge.

Iraq's rival Shia Muslim political factions have been vying for influence and the right to select a new premier and form a government.

The standoff has seen both sides set up protest camps and at times has sparked deadly street clashes in Baghdad.

On the one hand is the fiery cleric Moqtada Sadr, who wants parliament dissolved and new elections.

On the other sits the Coordination Framework, an alliance of pro-Iran Shia factions including former paramilitaries that wants a new government before fresh elections are held.

Tensions boiled over on August 29 when more than 30 Sadr supporters were killed in clashes with Iran-backed factions and the army in Baghdad's Green Zone, the capital's fortified government and diplomatic district.

'Stifling Crisis' 

On August 30, current President Barham Saleh urged "new, early elections in accordance with a national consensus", saying these could provide "an exit from the stifling crisis".

The largely honorific post of Iraqi president is traditionally reserved for a Kurd.

It generally goes to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), while the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) keeps control over the affairs of autonomous Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

But the KDP is also eyeing the presidency and could present its own candidate on Thursday.

There are currently two obvious contenders: the PUK's Saleh, the incumbent, and current Kurdistan Interior Minister Rebar Ahmed of the KDP.

Sajad Jiyad, researcher at think tank Century International, said he expected quorum -- 220 deputies out of the 329 in parliament -- to be reached and for the vote to go ahead.

But he told AFP that much depended on whether the PUK and KDP could compromise.

"Has the (Coordination) Framework managed to convince the PUK and the KDP to come to an agreement?

"Will there be one candidate? Will it be Barham? Or two candidates, Barham and someone the KDP backs?" he said.

Once parliament elects a new president, that person must then designate a prime minister, who is chosen by the largest coalition in parliament.

Jiyad said that if a president were elected, the likely candidate for premier would be Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, the Coordination Framework's choice for the post.

"The Sadrists are not likely to be happy" with this, Jiyad said.

"Maybe they will encourage protests and prepare for the next elections."

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