Iraqi prime minister faces further setback forming government

Adel Abdul Mahdi, center, attends a recent parliamentary session. (AFP)
Updated 26 November 2018
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Iraqi prime minister faces further setback forming government

  • The PM will present his candidates on Monday
  • An attempt to fill the eight remaining ministries earlier this month was postponed

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi will present his candidates for eight ministerial positions Monday but the key positions related to security have still not been resolved.

The nominations come after a month of tough negotiations and serious disagreements over candidates for the Interior and Defense ministries, negotiators told Arab News.

Abdul Mahdi, who took office last month, was chosen as the result of a political compromise between the rival two largest parliamentary coalitions.

The Reform alliance led by the influential cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr is vying for influence against the Iran-backed Al-Binna’a, a coalition led by Hadi Al-Amiri. Al-Amiri is the head of Badr Organization, a powerful Shiite armed faction.

An attempt to fill the eight remaining ministries earlier this month was postponed after the two alliances were locked in disagreement.

Negotiators said this time the two sides had reached agreement on six ministers but interior and defense would probably remain empty.

“As long as we can’t agree on all the candidates, let’s go with what we have so far,” a key Reform negotiator told Arab News.

“Both alliances have agreed on the candidates of six ministries, so we will delay the vote on the candidates of interior and defense until further notice,”.

The vacant ministries to be occupied on Monday are justice, culture, education, higher education, immigration and planning. Abdul Mahdi’s nominations for interior and defense will not have the required backing. 

Maj. Gen. Faisal Fener, a former commander of Saddam Hussein’s private jet squadron, had been backed by Amiri and his allies to be the next defense minister. 

But Fener was finally ruled out from the position because of laws against former members of Saddam’s Ba’ath party holding government positions. In particular, he was sanctioned “for his involvement in the 1991 oppression of the Shiite-led uprising against Saddam,” negotiators said.

Faleh Al-Fayad, a former national security adviser — also backed by Amiri — is still the sole candidate for the Interior Ministry.

One of Sadr’s main negotiators said Fener had been “excluded by the law, not by us.” The negotiator said no deal had been reached between the two factions on Fayad. 

“From the beginning we made an agreement with the leadership of Al-Binna’a suggesting that the candidates to occupy the interior and defense should be independent and have nothing to do with the political parties, but they have been insisting to nominate Fayad.

“We have nothing against him but he is not independent.”

The formation of Iraq’s government has been painfully slow since elections in May. 

The US, which backs Reform, and Iran, have been pushing for their allies to gain the biggest influence in the new government, particularly in the security ministries.

Iraq has been a battleground for the US and Iran since the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam.

Iran has gained increasing influence in the country by controlling the officials who run the the Interior Ministry and Fayad is no exception. He is seen by most Iraqi parties as Tehran’s man.

He was also the head of the umbrella organization overseeing Shiite paramilitary troops, which fought Daesh alongside the government from 2014.

Fayad was one of the main allies of former prime minister Haider Al-Abadi. But he turned against him and allied with Amiri during the negotiations to form the government.

An Al-Binna’a negotiator said they had little option other than to nominate Fayad because they have no other option and he is backed by the powerful Iranian General Qassim Soleimani who oversees Tehran’s involvement in Iraq and other countries in the region.

“He is the candidate of Soleimani so we can’t withdraw his nomination,” the negotiator said, adding that Soleiman is trying to reward him after he lost his previous positions due to falling out with Abadi.


Militant rocket fire kills 12 civilians in Syria: state media

Updated 17 June 2019
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Militant rocket fire kills 12 civilians in Syria: state media

  • Former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham being blamed for the attack

DAMASCUS: Rocket fire has killed 12 civilians in a regime-held village in northwestern Syria, state news agency SANA has said blaming former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham for the attack.

SANA said 15 people were also wounded late Sunday in the attack on Al-Wadihi village south of Aleppo city and said HTS, which controls parts of Aleppo’s countryside as well as most of neighboring Idlib, was responsible.

It published graphic pictures purporting to show some of the victims in a hospital in the aftermath of the attack, including of bandaged men and children lying on stretchers, thick blankets covering their bodies.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the same death toll — saying five children were among those killed — and also blamed militants based in rural Aleppo for the attack.

But the Britain-based monitor did not specify whether HTS or other allied militant groups were responsible.

The attack came as Syrian government forces have been locked in clashes with HTS fighters in nearby Hama province.

More than 35 combatants, mostly regime forces, were killed on Saturday in battles in Hama’s countryside, according to the Observatory.

Parts of Aleppo, Hama and Idlib are supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September.

But it was never fully implemented as militants refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, HTS extended its administrative control over the region, which includes most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian government and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing nearly 400 civilians, according to the Observatory.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.