Iraqi protesters reject 'any candidate' with ties to ruling elite and Iran

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Iraqi protesters rejected the nomination of Assad Al Eidani as the country’s next prime minister, on Thursday, demanding an independent candidate to head the government.

Demonstrators have rallied for almost three months in attempt to ouster the political ruling elite that has run the oil-rich yet poverty-ridden country since 2003.

The rejection comes President Barham Salih said he is "prepared to resign" in protest against the nomination of Mr Al Eidani to the premiership.

Mr Salih said in a letter to parliament that he would rather resign than appoint someone to the position who would be rejected by protesters.

He explained the constitution does not give him the right to reject nominees for the premiership, so he was ready to submit his resignation to parliament.

Outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced his resignation in November after the most powerful religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, withdrew support for his government.

Mr Al Eidani, who is the governor of Basra and former minister of youth and sports, is the latest candidate to be chosen by a pro-Iranian parliamentary bloc.

"We don't want Assad the Iranian," shouted protesters in the souther city of Kut.

Protesters wave the Iraqi national flag at a roadblock in the southern city of Basra. AFP

A protester holds a national flag as he stands by a fire in Basra. AFP

A protester draped in a national flag stands by a fire in Basra. AFP

A protester wearing face-paint imitating "The Joker" poses for a picture near a sit-in by Senak bridge over the Tigris in Baghdad. AFP

A protester looks out from a tent on the Senak bridge. AFP

A Christmas tree is decorated with national flags and the pictures of protesters who were killed in clashes at Tahrir Square. EPA

A protester walks by crossed pictures of senior Iraqi officials in Tahrir Square. EPA

Protesters stage a sit-in near Tahrir Square. AP Photo

Protesters stage a sit-in on barriers at the Senak bridge leading to the heavily fortified Green Zone. AP Photo

A view of concrete barriers forming a barricade along Senak bridge. AFP

Protesters stage a sit-in on barriers at the Ahrar bridge. AP Photo

A view of the sit-in beneath the abandoned "Turkish Restaurant" building overlooking Tahrir Square. AFP

Protesters stage a sit-in while security forces close the Ahrar Bridge. AP Photo

Demonstrators rallied in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and across southern provinces on Thursday demanding an independent candidate to take the vacant position.

Roads and bridges were blocked in various cities after several buildings were set alight on Wednesday night.

Smoke and flames from burning tyres in Nasiriyah, Basra and Diwaniyah blocked major roads and bridges across the Euphrates all night, AFP reported.

In Nasiriyah, demonstrators set the provincial government building on fire for a second time since the protests began and protesters also torched the new headquarters of a pro-Iran militia in Diwaniyah.

They are calling for a technocrat leader who has no ties to Iran and the political system set up after the US invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

More than 450 people have been killed and 25,000 injured since the protest movement started in early October.

Outgoing higher education minister, Qusay Al Suhail, who was nominated by the Binaa parliamentary bloc but rejected by the public, withdrew his nomination for prime minister late Wednesday.

A deadline to name a new prime minister has been missed twice over disagreements over which is the largest bloc in the parliament following last year's elections.

There are currently two main blocs; Islah, led by populist Shiite cleric Muqtada Al Sadr, and Binaa, headed by Hadi Al Amiri.

But the numbers in the blocs have continued to change since last year's elections, with an unknown number of lawmakers leaving some blocs and joining others.

The development came as parliament passed a new electoral law on Tuesday, which has done little to calm public anger.

The new law would divide Iraq into districts with a member of parliament elected from each.

It will allow voters to elect individual politicians instead of choosing from party lists.

In addition, each member of parliament will get to represent a specific electoral district instead of groups of legislators.

It was welcomed by the majority of political parties but was rejected by the previous vice president Ayad Allawi’s Al Watanya coalition.

“The coalition expressed its shock at the passing of the law. The parties that possess money and weapons are the biggest beneficiaries of this law, and they will not pay attention to the public’s demands,” a coalition statement said.

“The adoption of this law is full of mines and would shatter the hopes of early election as it violates the constitution,” the statement said.

It is unlikely the electoral law alone will be enough to quell the rising discontent of Iraq's protesters.

Updated: December 26, 2019 06:40 PM

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