Iraqi parliament approves new cabinet in long-awaited vote

BAGHDAD—The Iraqi parliament on Thursday broke a year-long political stalemate with a vote of confidence in its new cabinet. It is the first time since 2005 that a government has not included members from the powerful Shia cleric bloc.

A majority of the 253 MPs in attendance voted to appoint 21 ministers, but two positions remain pending: the Ministry of Construction and Housing and the Ministry of Environment. Despite these two outstanding appointments, the approved Cabinet line-up constitutes a quorum.

The cabinet, led by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, is the first cabinet since 2005 not to include a seat in the bloc of the influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Iraq held early elections more than a year ago in response to massive anti-government protests that began in Baghdad and southern Iraq in October 2019. Protesters called for an overhaul of the political system established after the 2003 US-led invasion.

Political infighting delayed the formation of the government for more than a year, following elections that gave the al-Sadr-led coalition a majority. This was largely driven by political conflict between Sadr and former Iranian-backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The Sadr faction withdrew from parliament in a stalemate. In July, al-Sadr supporters stormed the heavily fortified Green Zone and the Iraqi parliament after the Iran-backed party nominated Mohammed al-Sudani as prime minister.

The following month, at least 30 people were killed and dozens injured in street fighting between al-Sadr’s followers and members of rival Popular Mobilization Forces. After the clash, Sadr withdrew his supporters from parliament.

After their withdrawal, al-Sadr’s rivals in a cooperative framework group led by al-Maliki were able to forge alliances with Kurdish and Sunni political parties to form a government.

On October 13, Iraqi parliamentarians elected former minister Abdul Latif Rashid as president in a first step toward the nomination of a new government, following a barrage of rocket attacks earlier in the day.

The streets of the capital remained quiet, though fears of further violence were prominent in the run-up to Thursday’s vote.

Independent lawmaker Raed al-Maliki said he expected al-Sadr to wait to see the public accept the new government before reacting.

“If this government does not succeed, street protests will start,” he said, adding that the new cabinet would face “massive challenges in terms of reform, fighting corruption, climate change and unemployment.” rice field.

In addition to appointing ministerial posts, parliament approved a program that included amending the electoral law within three months of ministers taking office and holding early elections within a year thereafter. The document also calls for measures to combat corruption, speed up the reconstruction of areas affected by armed conflict and return displaced people to their homes. It also calls for the elimination of “uncontrolled weapons” held by non-state actors.

Ahead of the vote, Al-Sudani said the new government would “combat the rampant corruption that affects all aspects of life and is responsible for many economic problems”, weakening the state’s authority and reducing poverty and unemployment. , said it was increasing the poverty of the population. service.

He also urged the Cabinet to build local government capacity and work to “find sustainable solutions to outstanding issues with the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government through genuine partnerships based on rights and obligations.” promised.

In his post-vote speech, former Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi defended his government’s record and called on all political parties to “all efforts of the new government to follow a path of stability and growth and uphold democracy and human rights.” to support the

In New York on Friday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the formation of a new Iraqi government, said UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric.

“The secretary-general calls on the new government to fulfill the long-standing demands of the Iraqi people for reform, accountability and a better future,” Dujarric said.

Associated Press