Iraq: Sadr ends sit-in after PM proposes new ministers

Iraq: Sadr ends sit-in after PM proposes new ministers
Influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called off a long-running protest after Haider al-Abadi proposed a new Cabinet lineup to the country's parliament, possibly ending Iraq's ongoing political crisis.
3 min read
01 April, 2016

Iraq: Sadr ends sit in

Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has ordered his followers to end a two-week sit-in after the country's prime minister proposed new ministers for a technocratic cabinet - a key demand of Sadr's movement.

Intense pressure from Sadr's supporters, who have staged rallies in the Iraqi capital and a sit-in next to the government headquarters to demand reforms, has been credited with Thursday's announcement of the new Cabinet lineup.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi came before the parliament to tell lawmakers he had reduced the number of Cabinet ministers to 16, from the previous 21-member government. He submitted the names of nominees for 14 ministerial positions, but said he would not replace the current defence and interior ministers, "given the current difficult situation".

Lawmakers have hailed Abadi's removal of a cabinet of party-affiliated ministers, which will be replaced with technocrats.

"Many of the new proposed ministers cannot be categorised as belonging to Sunni or Shia parties, rather as independents, which is the most important thing for the country," political analyst Faiq al-Rawi told The New Arab.

      Sadr made a name for himself as an anti-American cleric [Getty]
Rawi said that the choice of Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, a relative of Iraq's king deposed in 1958, as the new foreign minister would send a "positive message" to other Arab states after the outgoing minister angered Gulf states by voting against classifying Hizballah as a terrorist group in the Arab League.

Speaker of Parliament Salim al-Jabouri, said: "What has been achieved is a great accomplishment, we are optimistic we will pull through this crisis".

"Parliament has formed a committee to look over new ministers' credentials for at most a week," Jabouri told The New Arab, without setting a specific date for the parliamentary vote.

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.

Abadi had himself repeatedly called for his raft of anti-corruption reforms to be adopted by parliament, but has faced resistance from powerful blocs and their ministers, who rely on ministries for patronage and financial gain.

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," Sadr said in televised remarks, calling on his followers to make an "organised withdrawal".

The Shia cleric said that protests after Friday prayers would continue to push for a vote on the new cabinet.

Sadr, who returned to the political spotlight after calling for the sit-in and various earlier protests, also praised the "brave step" by Abadi of proposing the new ministers at a parliamentary session earlier in the day.

A member of the National Iraqi Alliance was also optimistic about the reforms: "Former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law Coalition is going to be the biggest losers with the changes and will no longer have 55 positions public and independent bodies."

"If parliament approves the reforms Iraq will be free of its sectarian political structure and partisan ministers for the first time in ages and finally see the birth of a technocratic government," said the official, speaking anonymously.

The main sit-in site erupted in celebration after the announcement, with demonstrators waving flags, dancing - and in some cases weeping.