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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Crisis-hit Iraq makes latest bid to elect president

The fourth effort this year by Iraqi lawmakers to pick a state president and end the year-long political impasse plagued by fatal violence that has worsened the country's economic troubles will take place on Thursday.

Lawmakers in crisis-hit Iraq meet Thursday for their fourth attempt this year to elect a state president and break a year-long gridlock marred by deadly violence that has deepened economic woes.

Oil-rich Iraq has yet to form a new government after general elections more than a year ago that was brought forward by a wave of mass protests against endemic corruption, rampant unemployment and decaying infrastructure.

Read more: Oil prices fell but Iraq continues to export

This week, the United Nations mission said that “the protracted crisis is breeding further instability” in the war-scarred country, warning of “divisive politics, generating bitter public disillusion”.

Parliament is due to convene from 11:00 am (0800 GMT) in Baghdad’s Green Zone, the capital’s fortified government and diplomatic district that was recently the site of large protest camps set up by rival factions.

Lawmakers in the past three failed attempts to elect a new head of state, in February and March, did not even reach the required two-thirds threshold — 220 out of 329 — for a quorum.

Democratic institutions built since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein remain fragile, and neighboring Iran wields major influence.

For the past year, Iraq has not only been without a new government but also without a state budget, locking up billions in oil revenues and obstructing much-needed reforms and infrastructure projects.

Read more: Iraq shot down drone near base hosting US troops

30 candidates, three front runners

Iraq’s rival Shiite Muslim political factions have been vying for influence and the right to select a new premier and form a government, with Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi left in charge in a caretaker capacity.

On one hand are the fiery cleric Moqtada Sadr, who wants parliament dissolved and new elections.

On the other sits the Coordination Framework, an alliance of pro-Iran Shiite factions — including former paramilitaries — that wants a new government before fresh elections are held.

The standoff has seen both sides set up protest camps, and at times has sparked deadly street clashes in Baghdad.

Tensions boiled over on August 29 when more than 30 Sadr supporters were killed in battles between Iran-backed factions and the army.

Read more: Casualties confirmed as Turkey targets PKK in Iraq and Syria

The largely honorific post of the Iraqi president is traditionally reserved for a Kurd.

It generally goes to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), while the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) keeps control over the affairs of autonomous Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

However, the KDP is also eyeing the presidency and could present its own candidate.