April 26, 2016 / 11:42 AM / a year ago

Iraqi MPs block vote on new cabinet reshuffle

Followers of Iraq's Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr take part in a protest demanding that parliament approves a long-delayed new cabinet and end political and sectarian wrangling that is hampering a vote on the matter in the streets outside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone in Iraq April 26, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi MPs disrupted a parliament session on Tuesday, blocking Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi from presenting a new cabinet lineup aimed at fighting corruption as tens of thousands of protesters took over part of central Baghdad to demand a vote.

More than a dozen deputies followed Abadi into the legislative chamber, clapping, slamming their hands on desks and chanting slogans like “invalid” and “treachery” for nearly an hour before the session was adjourned.

Abadi, who has offered two new lineups in the past month, did not get the chance to announce his latest proposal for ministerial candidates which speaker Salim al-Jabouri said he had come to parliament to present.

Water bottles thrown inside the chamber landed near Abadi, a deputy and a political source said, forcing camouflaged guards accompanying the premier to intervene.

Reporters were evacuated from the building after unconfirmed reports that protesters, mostly supporters of powerful Shi‘ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, had breached the heavily fortified Green Zone housing parliament and foreign embassies.

Security sources denied any breach had occurred, but demonstrators were threatening to enter the Green Zone. A Reuters photographer saw protesters cross an initial barrier before being stopped by security forces.

The largely peaceful gathering was the biggest in the capital in weeks, with protesters filling a main road stretching nearly two kilometers (1.3 miles) from Tahrir Square to the Green Zone.

Abadi, who is pushing to replace party-affiliated ministers with technocrats, has warned that the political crisis could hamper the war against Islamic State, which controls swathes of territory in the north and west of the oil-rich country.

Recent demonstrations have caused some military forces to leave the front lines to secure the capital, according to security sources.

On Tuesday, protesters braving unseasonably hot weather waved Iraqi flags and chanted pro-Sadr slogans as they crossed a bridge over the Tigris River to reach the gates of the Green Zone.

SPEAKER INTERRUPTED

The parliament session convened with enough attendees to reach a quorum, despite attempts to block the meeting by around 100 deputies who have been holding a sit-in in and around the main chamber for nearly two weeks, bringing government to a standstill.

Protesting deputies gathered in the parliament cafeteria chanted “illegal” as the session came to order, a Reuters witness said.

“Take your seats. This is not permitted. The session is not adjourned,” Jabouri said, wagging his finger. “This is rejected. The Iraqi people are waiting for us to complete the cabinet reshuffle.”

Jabouri said bloc leaders had decided to vote on the cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday, but that was not certain after he called for an adjournment to speak with the protesting members which appeared to drag on past the allotted 30 minutes.

It was not clear whether Abadi intended to offer new names or revive previous ones. Lawmakers suggested as many as 10 ministries could be changed.

The protesting lawmakers argue that Jabouri’s session is unconstitutional.

In a widely contested vote this month, they moved to sack him as part of demands to reform a system that allocates positions based on ethnic and sectarian quotas. They have also threatened to take the issue to court.

Additional reporting by Kareem Raheem; Writing by Stephen Kalin; editing by John Stonestreet and Ed Osmond

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