BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Hundreds rallied in central Baghdad in support of powerful Shi‘ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who has threatened to call mass protests if the prime minister fails to name a new cabinet to fight corruption by Tuesday.
People in Tahrir Square on Sunday said many more would join them if Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi did not select a government mainly made up of technical experts to tackle what they see as widespread graft and mismanagement.
“Yes, yes to Iraq; no, no to corruption,” they chanted, carrying Iraqi flags.
“We are demonstrating on our own initiative in support of Sayyid Moqtada,” said a man sitting in one of a number of tents set up to shield protesters from the blazing sun.
Delays in naming a new government, and political and sectarian wrangling over who should be in it, have paralyzed politics in Iraq.
Abadi has said the turmoil could threaten the campaign against Islamic State militants who still control swathes of territory in the north and west, including the city of Mosul.
Iraq, a major OPEC exporter which sits on one of the world’s largest oil reserves, ranks 161th out of 168 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
Corruption became a major issue after oil prices collapsed in 2014, shrinking the state budget at a time when it needed additional income to pay for war on the ultra-hardline Sunni group.
Abadi’s initial cabinet line-up, presented on March 31, was made up of independent professionals who he hoped could free their ministries from the grip of dominant political groups that have built their influence and wealth on a system of patronage put in place since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Parliament has already postponed the vote on Abadi’s government overhaul three times.
Reporting by Kareem Raheem; Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Andrew Heavens