Iran’s Rouhani meet Iraqi Shia cleric in Najaf

By Amir al-Saadi

BAGHDAD (AA) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met Wednesday with prominent Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani as part of his current visit to Iraq.

According to an Anadolu Agency reporter, Rouhani met with the Shia cleric in Iraq’s southern Najaf province.

The Iranian leader arrived in Iraq on Monday for a three-day visit for talks with Iraqi officials on ways of cementing economic relations between Tehran and Baghdad.

Rouhani met his Iraqi counterpart Barham Salih, Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, some political and religious leaders as well as tribal representatives in Baghdad.

  • Writing by Mohamed Sabry

Abdul-Mahdi sworn in as Iraqi PM; 14 ministers approved

By Ibrahim Saleh

BAGHDAD (AA) – Adil Abdul-Mahdi was sworn in as Iraq’s new prime minister late Wednesday after parliament approved most of his proposed cabinet lineup.

Only 14 of Abdul-Mahdi’s 22 cabinet nominees, however, were granted confidence by a majority of lawmakers during the session.

Nominees approved during Wednesday’s voting session — which went on past midnight — include candidates for the petroleum, finance, foreign affairs and labor portfolios.

Parliament will convene again on Nov. 6 when MPs will vote on the eight remaining nominees.

Sources close to the government-formation process told Anadolu Agency that certain political blocs were pressuring Abdul-Mahdi — who enjoys the support of influential Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani — for more representation in the incoming cabinet.

Earlier this month, Barham Salih, Iraq’s newly-elected president, tasked Abdul-Mahdi with drawing up a new government.

Abdul-Mahdi served as Iraq’s petroleum minister from 2014 to 2016.

Iraq’s Sistani pulls support from al-Abadi, al-Maliki

BAGHDAD (AA) – Prominent Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani does not support either current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi or former PM Nouri al-Maliki to lead Iraq’s next government, according to a Monday statement carried by a website known to be close to al-Sistani.

According to the Iraqi constitution, the largest bloc in parliament has the right to select the next prime minister.

“Most of the public no longer believes that these individuals can improve the country’s situation and successfully wage the fight against corruption,” the statement read.

"A new personality — someone competent, fair and courageous — must be chosen instead,” it added.

Al-Sistani enjoys the respect of a large segment of the population, especially in Iraq’s Shia-majority central and southern provinces.

Formation of a new government has been stalled since May, when Iraq held a hard-fought parliamentary poll, the results of which were later subject to a recount.

Iraqi PM, top cleric urge gov’t to meet protest demands

By Amir al-Saadi

BAGHDAD (AA) – Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Friday voiced his agreement with Ali al-Sistani, one of Iraq’s most prominent Shia clerics, who — in his Friday sermon — urged the country’s next government to meet protesters’ demands.

Al-Sistani also called for the speedy formation of a new government once results of the country’s disputed May 12 parliamentary polls were recounted.

In a statement issued shortly after al-Sistani’s sermon, al-Abadi voiced agreement with the cleric’s assertions, saying his outgoing government was working to meet the demands of protesters.

In his sermon, al-Sistani reportedly warned of a “popular uprising” if the incoming government failed to address demonstrators’ grievances.

On Friday, several provinces in southern and central Iraq — including Baghdad, Basra, Dhi Qar and Karbala — saw renewed demonstrations in which protesters reiterated longstanding demands for more job opportunities and improved public services.

The ongoing protests, which erupted earlier this month in southern Iraq and have since spread to the capital, have left at least 14 people dead and hundreds injured.

UPDATE – Protesters block road to Iraq’s Umm Qasr port


By Amir al-Saadi

BAGHDAD (AA) – One civilian was killed in southern Iraq Friday, the latest casualty in days of protests over high unemployment and a lack of basic services.

Security forces fired on protestors in Maysan province, leaving one dead and 15 others injured.

Protestors attacked and set fire to branches of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s Islamic Dawa Party, the National Wisdom movement led by Ammar al-Hakim, the Iranian-backed Al-Badr Organization and the Shia Supreme Islamic Council Party in Maysan.

They also poured into the streets of Najaf and stormed the airport.

In Nasiriyah, the capital of Dhi Qar governorate, protestors chanted slogans such as "Iran, we don't want you anymore."

Earlier Friday, hundreds of protesters cut the road to the Umm Qasr seaport in Basra province.

Raed al-Jamil, who works at the port, told Anadolu Agency that “hundreds” of protesters had blocked the main road to Umm Qasr, paralyzing activity there.

“We cut the main road [to the seaport] so they might feel what we feel every day,” said Hussein al-Ahmadi, one of the protesters.

“Thousands of Basra’s young people remain unemployed, even though the province is a main center for the production and export of oil.”

Protesters would not reopen the road “until we receive guarantees that our demands will be met”, he said.

Located near Iraq’s border with Kuwait, Umm Qasr is Iraq’s largest seaport in the Persian Gulf.

Tensions have steadily mounted in Basra since Sunday, when a demonstrator was killed by security forces while taking part in protests against high unemployment and chronic power outages.

On Friday morning, al-Abadi paid a visit to Basra, where he promised to address protesters’ grievances.

Prominent Iraqi Shia cleric and politician Muqtada al-Sadr called for security forces not to use force against demonstrators. He also asked protestors to respect public property.

Influential Najaf-based Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani meanwhile expressed support for the protestors.

Sistani’s representative, Abdel Mehdi al-Karbalai, urged the government to respond to the protesters’ demands.

Roughly 80 percent of Iraq’s overall crude oil exports originate from oilfields in Basra province.

For years, Basra residents have complained that foreign nationals, rather than locals, were being employed by the domestic energy sector.

They also complain of frequent power outages amid summer temperatures that often reach as high as 50 degrees Celsius.

Iraq cleric calls for integration of volunteer fighters

Ibrahim Saleh

BAGHDAD (AA) – Prominent Iraqi Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on Friday called for the integration of volunteer fighters who took part in Iraq’s recent fight against Daesh into government institutions.

In a Friday sermon, a spokesman for al-Sistani said: “Iraqi volunteers who took part in the war against the Daesh terrorist group must be absorbed into official organizations.”

"To ensure security across the country,” he asserted, “we need numerous personnel — especially those who have already contributed to the defense of Iraq.”

He added: “We must utilize these energies within a constitutional and legal framework.”

After Daesh overran vast swathes of Iraq in mid-2014, many Shia clerics called on all citizens able to carry weapons to fight alongside federal security forces with a view to eliminating the terrorist threat.

But in recent months, Daesh has suffered a string of crushing defeats in both Iraq and Syria, prompting Iraqi officials to declare that the group no longer had a “military presence” in the country.

In the same Friday sermon, al-Sistani’s representative also called for all weapons in the country to be kept in the hands of the state.

“The abundance of weapons now in Iraq must be brought under the federal government’s control,” he asserted.

Iraq arms must be confined to govt’s hands: UN official

By Haydar Hadi

NAJAF, Iraq (AA) – Jan Kubis, the head of the UN’s mission in Iraq, said Wednesday that the possession of arms in the war-torn country should be limited to the federal government.

After a meeting in the southern city of Najaf with Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s leading Shia religious authority, Kubis said that outstanding differences between Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) should be resolved based on the rule of law.

Ties between Baghdad and the KRG have been strained since late September, when the latter held an illegitimate referendum on regional independence.

In the immediate wake of the poll, federal forces moved into several parts of Iraq “disputed” between Baghdad and the KRG, including the oil-rich Kirkuk province.

“All laws must be respected in Iraq,” Kubis told reporters. “We also believe weapons should be confined to the hands of the [federal] government.”

He went on to assert that the UN fully supported the Iraqi government’s ongoing fight against corruption.

“We expect the Iraqi government to take serious steps against corruption and illegal money transfers abroad,” the UN official added.