Iraqi prime minister faces further setback forming government

Adel Abdul Mahdi, center, attends a recent parliamentary session. (AFP)
Updated 26 November 2018

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.

Yemenis warned against ignoring COVID-19 prevention advice

A doctor attends to a patient infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a quarantine center run by the International aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in Aden, Yemen June 27, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 sec ago

Yemenis warned against ignoring COVID-19 prevention advice

  • MSF intervened in Aden in May when the city was hit by outbreaks of COVID-19 and other diseases that claimed the lives of more than 1,800 people, according to official figures

AL-MUKALLA: Local health officials in Yemen have appealed to people to follow social-distancing rules and other precautionary advice related to COVID-19 as reports suggest the country’s death rates are falling.

Dr. Ishraq Al-Subaee, a spokesman for the Aden-based National Coronavirus Committee, said the spread of the pandemic has not slowed in Yemen despite reports of fewer COVID-19-related deaths in some areas, noting that a shortage of testing kits means the reported number of cases in Yemen is likely inaccurate.  

“I have recently seen that many people have abandoned their masks and joined large gatherings. There has been great awareness since the beginning of the pandemic and I hope people will remain vigilant so as not to lose (what we have gained),” she said.

Almost all Yemeni provinces have relaxed curfews and other measures imposed following the detection of the first case of COVID-19 in the country on April 10. People are now allowed to pray in mosques, visit markets and move between cities amid reports that death rates from COVID-19 and other diseases that hit Yemeni cities in May have fallen by 50 percent.

But Al-Subaee said hospitals in government-controlled areas are still reporting fresh cases and deaths, and warned people against thinking the pandemic is over.

On Thursday, the National Coronavirus Committee announced 38 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Yemen, 10 new deaths, and 24 recoveries, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 1,356, including 619 deaths and 361 recoveries.

Falling cases

In Aden, the international medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said on Friday that it would be reducing its activities in the southern port city of Aden due to a decrease in the numbers of patients visiting its centers.

“In light of the continuing reduction in the number of admissions to the two MSF COVID-19 treatment centers in Aden, MSF has taken the decision to combine its activities in one facility, “ the organization said in a statement.

MSF intervened in Aden in May when the city was hit by outbreaks of COVID-19 and other diseases that claimed the lives of more than 1,800 people, according to official figures.

While the numbers in Aden are decreasing, local authorities in the southeastern province of Hadramout have reintroduced a curfew in the city of Qaten as medical centers there have reported a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in recent days.

In Al-Mukalla, Hadramout’s capital, doctors at Ibn Sina Hospital’s isolation center have gone on strike to protest their excessive workload and missed payments. Many doctors in Hadramout have refused to work in COVID-19 treatment facilities in the province, placing extra strain on the doctors on duty there.