After Iraq fails to nominate new PM, top cleric calls for early elections

After the Iraqi parliament missed Thursday’s constitutional deadline to nominate a replacement for Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi, who resigned amid national anti-corruption demonstrations, Iraq’s top Shia cleric argued for an early election.
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ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – After the Iraqi parliament missed Thursday’s constitutional deadline to nominate a replacement for Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi, who resigned amid national anti-corruption demonstrations, Iraq’s top Shia cleric argued for an early election. 

The statement came during Friday prayers in the city of Karbala and was delivered by Sistani’s aide, Abdul Mahdi Karbalaie.   

“The fastest and most peaceful way out of the current crisis, and avoiding the unknown or chaos or civil strife, is to go back to the people by holding an early election after legislating a fair electoral law,” said Sistani. 

The revered cleric has an enormous influence over millions of Shia Muslims in Iraq. Though careful to avoid making statements that are overtly political, his comments on current Iraqi events can have a considerable impact on public opinion and government policy. 

Since the beginning of October, demonstrators in multiple cities across the nation have been calling for radical change in Iraq’s political system, which they say fails to address their needs but instead serves only the interests of a small governing class, as well as foreign countries such as Iran. They decry a lack of employment opportunities, the dismal state of public services, and widespread government corruption. 

So far, over 450 have been killed in the demonstrations, mostly peaceful protestors by security forces or Iran-backed militias in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), and well over 10,000 wounded. Many have been killed after riot police have used live rounds or have fired military-grade tear gas canisters directly into crowds.   

Last week, the UN Security Council (UNSC) expressed “grave concern” at the “killing, maiming, and arbitrary arrests of unarmed demonstrators.” 

Read More: 'Grave concern' over deaths, arrests at Baghdad protests: UN Security Council 

“The members of the Security Council acknowledged the right to peaceful assembly in Iraq and called for Iraqi authorities to promptly conduct transparent investigations into the violence against those demonstrating,” a press statement of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said. 

On Wednesday, the national parliament in Baghdad approved several articles of a new draft election bill but failed to pass it, adjourning until the next session on Monday.  

Read More: Iraqi Parliament adjourns session after vote on articles of draft election law 

The draft law indicates the electoral system would change to one that is a mix between direct voting and electoral lists, the latter of which protesters have rejected, saying it gives the parties too much power to disregard electoral decisions made by voters. 

Earlier in December, parliament passed a law that reorganizes the country’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), the body that oversees Iraqi elections.