The National - News
Iraq sit-in ends as changes proposed
Prime minister puts forward names for 16 ministerial positions, including those for oil, finance and foreign affaris
BAGHDAD // Iraqi cleric Muqtada Al Sadr ordered his followers to end a two- week sit- in yesterday after the country’s prime minister proposed new ministers for a technocratic cabinet he had demanded.
The sit- in at entrances to Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to Iraq’s main government institutions and foreign embassies, was aimed at pressuring authorities to carry out reforms.
Prime minister Haider Al Abadi had repeatedly called for the cabinet of party-affiliated ministers to be replaced with technocrats but faced resistance from powerful blocs and their ministers, who rely on ministries for patronage and financial gain.
Mr Al Abadi proposed 16 candidates, including Nizar Salem Al Numan as the new oil minister, prominent Shiite politician Ali Allawi as the new finance minister, and Sharif Ali bin Al Hussein, a relative of Iraq’s king who was deposed in 1958, as the new foreign minister, state television reported.
The defence and interior ministers will remain the same for now because of the country’s ogoing battle against ISIL, Mr Al Abadi said.
The end of the sit-in and the proposal of the new ministerial candidates, who will now be considered by parliament, eases political tensions that have been running high for weeks.
“End your sit- in before the gates of the Green Zone, with thanks and appreciation to you,” Mr Al Sadr said in televised remarks, calling on his followers to make an organised withdrawal.
The cleric said that protests after Friday prayers would continue to push for a vote on the new cabinet.
Mr Al Sadr, who returned to the political spotlight after calling for the sit- in and various earlier protests, also praised the “brave step” by Mr Al Abadi of proposing the new ministers at a parliamentary session earlier in the day.
The main sit-in site erupted in celebration after the announcement, with demonstrators waving flags, dancing and in some cases weeping.
The names of the ministerial candidates were given to parliament speaker Salim Al Juburi by Mr Al Abadi. “They were chosen on the basis of professionalism, competence, integrity and leadership ability,” the prime minister said.
Parliament then voted on carrying out “complete reform” of government positions including ministers, deputies and security commanders.
The ministerial changes are to be carried out within 10 days and the other positions within a month, Mr Al Juburi said.
But changing ministers and other senior officials would be only the beginning of the process, as ministries are packed with lower-level employees appointed on the basis of party and sectarian affiliation, and replacing them would face serious resistance.
Technocrat ministers would also lack the political cover afforded by party affiliation and could face threats by armed groups opposed to the changes they proposed.
In February, the prime minister had called for the cabinet to undergo “fundamental” change, saying it should include “professional and technocratic figures and academics”.
That kicked off the latest chapter in a months-long saga of Mr Al Abadi proposing various reforms that parties and politicians with interests in the existing system have sought to delay or undermine.
The prime minister first announced reform measures last year under pressure from protesters calling for measures to address widespread corruption and abysmal public services, demands that were backed by top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani.
But the protest movement faltered, weekly attendance at Friday demonstrations dropped and little in the way of real, lasting change has been achieved so far.
Mr Al Sadr, the scion of a powerful clerical family from the Shiite holy city of Najaf, later called for his supporters to protest and then stage the sit-in at the Green Zone. The cleric had threatened that his supporters would storm the Green Zone if Mr Al Abadi failed to present a line-up of technocrats.
But on Sunday he entered the area alone, asking his supporters to remain outside the perimeter.
They were chosen on the basis of professionalism, competence, integrity and leadership ability Haider Al Abadi Iraqi prime minister