On February 27, Thursday, Iraqi state media reported that the national parliament has postponed its extraordinary session for holding a vote of confidence to approve the new cabinet proposed by prime minister-designate Mohammed Allawi. The vote was put off after the parliament failed to meet the required quorum of 165, with only 120 members of parliament (MPs) present for the session.
Parliament speaker Mohammed Halbusi postponed the session until February 29, Saturday, after meeting with multiple parliamentary groups and key government officials, including Allawi. The new cabinet will need a simple majority of the 329 MPs to pass the confidence vote, as per the Iraqi supreme court.
Several Sunni, Kurdish and even some Shia parties decided to boycott Thursday’s special session over their opposition regarding nominees named by the prime minister-designate for his new cabinet, with many fearing that their candidates will not be nominated and included. They have also complained that they were not consulted when Allawi chose the nominees for his cabinet. Allawi has stated that he intends to name ‘a cabinet of independents’, who have relatively minor or no affiliation to any of Iraq’s political parties.
The parties have also expressed concern that Allawi’s nominees will not be acceptable to the millions of people who have been protesting on the streets of Iraq since October 1 last year. The popular protests have been against government corruption, massive unemployment, endemic poverty and a severe lack of basic public services. Protesters have been demanding the ouster of the corrupt political and business elites that have been ruling the country, as well as major structural reforms in the government and political system.
Since being nominated, Allawi has made several big promises, some of which include holding early elections, investigating the killings of protesters and punishing those responsible, ending foreign interference in Iraqi affairs and curbing the power of non-state militias and armed groups. The protesters have already rejected Allawi’s nomination as prime minister, as he is viewed as too close to the existing corrupt elite.
The prime minister-designate, who has previously served as Iraq’s communications minister, has urged the protesters to give his government a chance. He also warned of an impending political vacuum if he has to vacate the prime ministership after the expiry of the constitutional deadline (March 2) in case he does not win the vote of confidence in parliament.
The anti-government protests in Iraq have been met with violent crackdowns and the use of excessive force by police and security forces. More than 600 protesters are estimated to have died at the hands of the Iraqi security forces and armed militias. Extremely brutal and heavy handed methods have been reportedly used to suppress the protests, including use of live ammunition, tear gas grenades, sniper fire and the targeted assassinations and abductions of several activists. The protests led to the resignation of the previous prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, in November last year.
On February 24, Monday, the United Nations (UN) assistance mission for Iraq said in a statement that it had obtained credible evidence about protesters being attacked with hunting rifles, stones and fire-bombs over the weekend, resulting in at least 50 injuries. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq, said: “The continued pattern of the use of excessive force, with ambiguously identified armed groups and unclear loyalties, is a grave security concern that must be tackled urgently and decisively. Peaceful protesters should be protected at all times.”