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Iran-Backed Groups In Iraq Blast President As Political Turmoil Intensifies

Iraqi President Barham Salih has ruled out appointing the choice for prime minister of the country's Iran-backed groups.
Iraqi President Barham Salih has ruled out appointing the choice for prime minister of the country's Iran-backed groups.

Iran-backed groups assailed Iraq’s president for refusing to name their chosen candidate to the post of prime minister, although thousands of people took to the streets of Baghdad in support of the president’s decision.

Groups affiliated with the Tehran-supported Fatah bloc on December 27 accused Iraqi President Barham Salih of “carrying out an American will that aims to pull the country toward chaos."

Salih on December 26 said he rejected the appointment of Asaad al-Eidani because of broad opposition by the anti-government protest movement that has shaken the country since the beginning of October.

His decision not to appoint Eidani, who is the governor of southern Basra Province, was made “to avoid more bloodshed and in order to safeguard civil peace,” said Salih, who has come under increasing pressure because of the demonstrations.

Eidani was proposed a day earlier by the Fatah bloc, which includes leaders associated with the Iran-supported paramilitary Popular Mobilization Forces.

Iran has gained growing influence in neighboring Iraq, with which it shares a Shi'ite majority, following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that brought down Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Protesters have taken to the streets to rage against the political elite, worsening living conditions, and government corruption, but many have also condemned what they see as Tehran’s excessive influence in the country. Many have also complained about other foreign interests in the country, including the United States.

Some 450 people have been killed since early October in the protests amid a violent government crackdown that has been condemned internationally.

On December 27, thousands of people rallied in the capital to celebrate Salih’s decision and to demand that an independent candidate with no party affiliation be named to the premiership.

“This is a victory for the demonstrators and a victory for the blood of the martyrs," activist Hassanein Gharib told AP. “Because of street pressure, the candidate of the [political] parties was rejected, and we will not accept and we will not return to our homes if the party candidate is nominated."

However, lawmaker Odai Awad, a member of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, called Salih a coward in a TV interview, saying that "every Iraqi should spit in the face of the president for what he did."

The Iran-linked groups said Salih had violated the constitution “by refusing to carry out his duties” to name the candidate chosen by parliament's largest bloc, although since last year’s elections, politicians have disputed which is actually the largest coalition in the body.

The two largest blocs are Sairoon, led by influential Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and Fatah, led by Hadi al-Amiri. Sadr’s party has said it is “against any pressure on the president and will stand with him.”

However, the makeup of the blocs has shifted several times since the elections, with lawmakers coming and going from the various coalitions.

With reporting by AP and Reuters