Baghdad, December 15 - As the constitutional deadline in Iraq for naming a new prime minister ends on Tuesday, December 17, Iraqi protesters reiterate their demands the nominee should be independent and not accused of corruption.
The renewed demonstrations on Saturday, December 14, in Baghdad's main protest hub on Tahrir (Liberation) Square as well as other center-south cities, mainly Basra and Karbala, came after reported but unconfirmed news that President Barham Salih is about to formally nominate former minister and current MP Muhammad Shia' al-Sudani to form the next government.
A day earlier, al-Sudani announced his resignation from membership in the Islamic Da'wa party which is headed by former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Al-Sudani, 49, held several ministerial posts in previous cabinets, also headed by leading members of al-Da'wa party, the last of which was under the premiership of Haider al-Abadi as Minster of Labor and Social Affairs between 2014 and 2017. During that period, he also held the portfolios of Industry and Trade as Acting Minister. Prior to that, he was Minister of Human Rights in al-Maliki's cabinet between 2010 and 2014. Before assuming ministerial posts, he was Governor of Maysan Province between 2009 and 2010.
Established in 1957, Al-Da'wa (Call) Party is one of the main Shiite Islamic political parties whose ideology aimed at combating secularism and creating an Islamic state in Iraq.
In 1979, it moved its headquarters to Tehran, publicly supported the Islamic Revolution in Iran and called for an uprising against Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist government. During the Iraq-Iran war between 1980 and 1988, Saddam's regime banned the party and sentenced its members to death.
Mr. al-Sudani's background can hardly come close to the demands of the protesters, who want Iran’s influence to be curtailed in Iraq.
The protesters on December 11 had published a statement listing specifications for the new prime minister, saying he must not be affiliated with any party. It added that he should not have held any ministerial or parliamentary post since 2003, must be an Iraqi without a dual citizenship, his age not exceed 55 years, and must pledge not to run in the upcoming elections.
On Sunday, December 15, students from the University of Technology marched from the university's location in south Baghdad to downtown Tahrir Square to join other demonstrators protesting the nomination of a candidate from the ruling parties to form Iraq's next government.
Iraq protests which began on October 1 initially called for social reforms, fighting corruption and unemployment as well as improvement of basic services, particularly electricity. The demonstrations have been marked by bloodshed and almost daily confrontations, with security forces who have fired live ammunition and tear gas at demonstrators. More than 440 people, mostly unarmed protesters but also some members of the security forces, have been killed since October 1.
The United Nations Security Council announced on December 13 that its members "welcomed efforts for an inclusive dialogue between the Government and people of Iraq to urgently deliver reforms aimed at addressing legitimate demands over economic opportunity, governance and electoral legislation."
A press statement issued Friday by the current Council President, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, said the members of the Security Council called on Iraqi authorities "to promptly conduct transparent investigations into the violence against those demonstrating."
Meanwhile, Washington blamed Iran for a spate of rocket attacks against Iraqi bases where American troops are stationed and warned the Trump administration would respond forcefully if U.S. or allied forces were wounded or killed.
The warning came in a press statement issued on December 13 by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who said,
"Iran’s proxies have recently conducted several attacks against bases where Iraqi Security Forces are co-located with U.S. and International Coalition personnel."
Pompeo warned any attacks by Iran or its proxies "that harm Americans, our allies or our interests will be answered with a decisive U.S. response." He added, "Iran must respect the sovereignty of its neighbors and immediately cease its provision of lethal aid and support to third parties in Iraq and throughout the region."
Commenting on the so-called "external factor", Iraqi journalist Hamdi al-Attar wrote in Azzaman daily on Saturday, December 14 that this factor, referring to the U.S. and Iran, "casts its shadow on the situation in Iraq for so long as both of these countries have differences, resolving Iraq's situation becomes difficult since Iran cannot lose its influence in Iraq even if it gets it in a river of blood while America shyly sides with the protesters and wants to get rid of those it calls (Iran's agents) in power."