New premier-designate named
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.