BAGHDAD: Iraq’s top Shiite cleric called on Friday for the speedy formation of a government and early elections as ongoing political wrangling caused Parliament to miss a deadline to name the next premier. That has sparked concerns of protracted political crisis and uncertainty.
Blast walls were erected by security forces on a bridge leading to the presidential palace in the heavily fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government.
The move came in anticipation of future demonstrations there as discontent over President Barham Saleh’s inability to name the next premier mounts among anti-government protesters.
Protesters currently occupy three bridges leading to and near the Green Zone — Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahrar — in a standoff with security forces.
The demonstrations engulfed Baghdad and southern Iraq on Oct. 1, when thousands took to the streets to protest government corruption, poor services and rising Iranian influence in state affairs. At least 450 protesters have died as security forces used live fire and tear gas to disperse crowds.
Pressure from the demonstrations led Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign after Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, Iraq’s most powerful religious authority, withdrew support for his government.
Al-Sistani, in his weekly sermon delivered by a representative in Najaf, called for political blocs to form the government quickly.
“We hope that there won’t be a long delay in the formation of the new government, and it must be an uncontroversial government that responds to the requirements of the current stage, and be able to gain back the state authority and calm down the situation,” Al-Sistani said.
The constitution requires Parliament’s largest bloc to name a candidate for the premiership within 15 days of its acceptance of Abdul Mahdi’s resignation, which expired on Dec. 19. The deadline was extended until Dec. 22, two lawmakers said.
The head of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church said Friday there will be no Christmas Eve masses in Baghdad for security reasons.
“In light of the current sensitive security situation in Baghdad, the patriarchate has decided to cancel Christmas midnight masses at all Baghdad churches,” Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako said in a statement.
But mass will take place on Christmas Day, the cardinal said, “in order to pray for a solution to the crisis ... and in memory of the victims, both protesters and security forces.”