April 12, 2016 / 1:42 PM / 2 years ago

Iraqi parliament blocks PM's technocrat cabinet, postpones vote

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s parliament blocked a cabinet of independent technocrats Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had proposed, as political factions forced him to adopt some their own ministerial candidates instead, MPs said.

Abadi presented on Tuesday a second list of candidates to parliament, which postponed a vote planned for the same day to Thursday, state TV said.

That list, with 15 members, includes only four names from a 14-member line-up Abadi had submitted on March 31. The defense and interior ministers in the outgoing cabinet will remain, to keep up the momentum of the war on Islamic State.

The cabinet reshuffle is supposed to be part of long-promised anti-corruption measures that Abadi needs to deliver. If he does not, he will risk weakening his government as Iraqi forces mount a campaign to recapture the northern city of Mosul from the militants.

Political blocs that control a majority in parliament were unhappy with Abadi’s initial line-up. His second was drawn from technocrats they had proposed in an effort to maintain the current party balance within the government, lawmakers said on Monday.

The prime minister had wanted a technocratic cabinet independent from the political class. Critics say the politicians use a system of ethnic and sectarian quotas put in place after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to amass wealth and influence.

Iraq, a major OPEC exporter which sits on one of the world’s largest oil reserves, ranks 161 out of 168 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, visiting Baghdad on Friday, urged Iraq not to let the political crisis interfere with the fight against jihadists and voiced unequivocal support for the prime minister.

Abadi proposed the new cabinet under pressure from the clergy of the Shi‘ite majority and popular discontent at the lack of basic public services, in a nation facing an economic crisis caused by falling oil prices.

Several dozen MPs affiliated with the powerful Shi‘ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr held a protest inside parliament on Tuesday after it was confirmed that Abadi had agreed to modify his line-up, according to state TV and other local stations.

The dissenting MPs view Abadi’s move as a return to the political patronage system. They were still shouting slogans more than two hours after the end of the session.

Abadi nominated as oil minister in his second list Jabar Ali al-Luaibi, a former head of South Oil Company, the state-run company that produces most of Iraq’s crude.

The previous nominee as oil minister was a Kurdish geologist who withdrew his candidacy under pressure from the political hadn’t had a chance to vet his nomination.

Abadi’s second list didn’t suggest any name for finance minister. Iraqi state TV on Tuesday said the Kurdish blocs want to keep the current minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, in his post.

Falih al-Fayadh, a former national security advisor, is the new candidate for foreign minister. He would replace Sharif Ali Bin al-Hussein, a member of the royal family that was deposed nearly 60 years ago, who was in the previous line-up.

Reporting by Saif Hameed; Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Larry King

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