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Protesters press for reform in Iraq

Natalie MullerApril 26, 2016

Tens of thousands of protesters have thronged central Baghdad to push for a vote on a new government for Iraq. The country has been paralyzed for weeks by a dispute over efforts to replace the Cabinet.

Protesters in Baghdad
Image: Reuters/A. Saad

Protesters waving Iraqi flags marched from downtown Tahrir Square to the heavily-fortified Green Zone on Tuesday, calling on the government to follow through on stalled reform proposals.

Iraq has been hit by weeks of political turmoil surrounding Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's attempts to form a new Cabinet. The premier last month presented to parliament a list of independent technocrats to replace party-affiliated ministers, but the plan was rejected by powerful political blocks and he was forced to come up with a second list of candidates.

The vote on the new lineup has faced repeated delays. The dispute has led to a deadlock in parliament, with lawmakers holding a sit-in, brawling in the chamber and calling for the leadership to be sacked.

Protesters in Baghdad
Protesters fill Baghdad's Tahrir Square to demand an end to political and sectarian wrangling in parliamentImage: Reuters/A. Saad

Fed up with deadlock

Tuesday's largely peaceful march was the largest seen in the capital for some weeks. Many of the protesters were followers of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who had called for a mass demonstration to demand the formation of a technocratic government.

"Our participation in the demonstration aims to reject this government for being sectarian," protester Abu Ali al-Zaidi said.

The protest was held to coincide with a parliament session in which speaker Salim al-Juburi was seeking to hold a vote on the new Cabinet.

Need for change

Prime Minister al-Abadi last year promised a series of reforms in response to public anger over corruption and poor public services. One of the reforms was a pledge for "fundamental" change to the cabinet, including the appointment of "professional and technocratic figures and academics."

The United Nations has warned that Iraq's political crisis could undermine the fight against "Islamic State" militants in the north and west of the country. Authorities said protests in recent weeks had forced military sources to leave the front lines in order to secure the capital.

nm/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP)