Iraqi President Says He Would Rather Quit Than Name PM Rejected by Protesters

Demonstrators call for an independent candidate instead of Iran-backed nominee

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A poster of Basra Governor Asaad al-Eidani that reads "rejected by the people," in Baghdad, December 25, 2019.
A poster of Basra Governor Asaad al-Eidani that reads "rejected by the people," in Baghdad, December 25, 2019.Credit: Ali Abdul Hassan/AP

Iraqi President Barham Saleh refused on Thursday to designate the nominee of an Iran-backed parliamentary bloc for prime minister, saying he would rather resign than appoint someone to the position who would be rejected by protesters.

Saleh said in a statement that because the constitution does not give him the right to reject nominees for the premiership, he was ready to submit his resignation to parliament.

He would not name the governor of the southern Basra province, Asaad al-Eidani, as the country's next prime minister "to avoid more bloodshed and in order to safeguard civil peace," Saleh added. 

Al-Eidani's name was proposed Wednesday by the Fatah bloc, which includes leaders associated with the Iran-supported paramilitary Popular Mobilization Forces.

His name was promptly rejected by Iraqi protesters, who poured into the streets calling for an independent candidate.

Iraq's President Barham Saleh delivers a televised speech in Baghdad, October 31, 2019.
Iraq's President Barham Saleh delivers a televised speech in Baghdad, October 31, 2019.Credit: The Presidency of the Republic of Iraq Office/Handout via Reuters

According to Iraq's constitution, the largest bloc in parliament is required to nominate the prime minister, who is then designated by the president. A deadline to name a new prime minister has been missed twice over disagreements on which is the largest bloc in the parliament following last year’s elections.

Saleh, in his statement, said his refusal to desginate al-Eidani could be construed as a violation of the constitution and therefore said he was putting his resignation at the disposal of Parliament. He stopped short of actually submitting his resignation.

Mass protests have gripped Iraq since October 1 and protesters, most of them young, are demanding an overhaul of a political system they see as profoundly corrupt and keeping most Iraqis in poverty. More than 450 people have been killed.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned last month as the protests continued, but he has remained in office in a caretaker capacity.

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