New premier-des­ig­nate named

Pretoria News - - FRONT PAGE -

IRAQ’S pres­i­dent yes­ter­day named a former gov­er­nor of the city of Na­jaf as premier-des­ig­nate, fol­low­ing weeks of po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing as Bagh­dad res­i­dents rushed to stock up on sup­plies, hours be­fore a days-long cur­few was set to take hold amid the global coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

Ad­nan al-Zu­rufi was ap­pointed premier-des­ig­nate by Pres­i­dent Barham Saleh after tense meet­ings be­tween ri­val po­lit­i­cal blocs that for weeks had strug­gled to reach a con­sen­sus over a can­di­date to re­place out­go­ing Premier Adil Ab­dul-Mahdi.

The de­vel­op­ment came after an ear­lier premier-des­ig­nate, Mo­hammed Allawi, with­drew his can­di­dacy after po­lit­i­cal groups re­jected his pro­posed cabi­net line-up.

Al-Zu­rufi, 54, was ap­pointed by Iraq’s US ad­min­is­tra­tor Paul Bre­mer as gov­er­nor of Na­jaf in 2004, and later served in the same post for two terms be­tween 2009 and 2015. His sec­ond term was cut short fol­low­ing his dis­missal by the pro­vin­cial coun­cil. In the May 2018 elec­tion he ran un­der former prime min­is­ter Haidar al-Abadi’s list.

Ac­cord­ing to Iraq’s con­sti­tu­tion, al-Zu­rufi has 30 days to pro­pose a line-up of min­is­ters and form a new gov­ern­ment. Pres­i­dent Barham Saleh wished al-Zarufi suc­cess, “in his new tasks to work for early and fair elec­tions and to achieve the as­pi­ra­tions of the Iraqis”, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from his of­fice.

Early elec­tions have been a key de­mand of anti-gov­ern­ment pro­test­ers camped out in the cap­i­tal’s Tahrir Square since last Oc­to­ber, when thou­sands took to the streets to de­cry gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion, poor ser­vices and un­em­ploy­ment. Ab­dul-Mahdi re­signed un­der pres­sure from the demon­stra­tions.

Sub­se­quently, Abadi’s ef­forts to form a gov­ern­ment were plagued with de­lays and dys­func­tion as leg­is­la­tors failed on two oc­ca­sions to ap­prove his cabi­net of in­de­pen­dents, which alien­ated Iraqi Kur­dish and Sunni law­mak­ers.

Al-Zu­rufi’s nam­ing came hours be­fore a cur­few im­posed be­cause of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic was to take hold in Bagh­dad as Iraq strug­gles to con­tain the spread of the virus.

Res­i­dents of the Iraqi cap­i­tal rushed to stock up on last-minute sup­plies be­fore the start of the 11pm cur­few. Many were con­cerned it could be ex­tended be­yond the week that was an­nounced by the gov­ern­ment.

Long lines formed at petrol sta­tions and shops. Work­ers stood guard out­side su­per­mar­kets to take the tem­per­a­ture of shop­pers en­ter­ing them. Gloves were handed out.

The lock­down co­in­cides with the an­nual Shia Mus­lim com­mem­o­ra­tion of the death of revered Imam Mousa al-Kazim. Thou­sands of Iraqis typ­i­cally make the jour­ney on foot to the shrine of the imam in the Khadimiya.

Pil­grims in the past few days have been stopped from car­ry­ing out the trek by se­cu­rity forces over fears of the virus, which has in­fected more than 182 000 peo­ple and killed more than 7 100 glob­ally.

The fate of the six-month protest move­ment has also come into ques­tion amid the strict pro­to­cols pro­hibit­ing large pub­lic gath­er­ings. The num­ber of demon­stra­tors camped out in cen­tral Bagh­dad squares had been dwin­dling be­fore the out­break.

Iraq has had 11 deaths from among 154 con­firmed cases of Covid-19. Most peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence only mild symp­toms, such as fever and cough, and re­cover within weeks. But the virus is highly con­ta­gious and can be spread by peo­ple with no vis­i­ble symp­toms. For some, es­pe­cially older adults and peo­ple with ex­ist­ing health prob­lems, it can cause more se­vere ill­ness, in­clud­ing pneu­mo­nia.

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