Ex-governor named PM-designate as Baghdad awaits day-long curfew

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq’s president Tuesday named a former governor of the city of Najaf as prime ministerdesignate, following weeks of political infighting, as Baghdad residents rushed to stock up on supplies hours before a days-long curfew was set to take hold amid a global pandemic.

Adnan al-Zurfi was appointed premier-designate by President Barham Saleh after tense meetings between rival political blocs. The meetings went on for weeks without reaching a consensus on a candidate to replace outgoing Premier Adel Abdul-Mandi. Hours after the announcement, Iraq’s powerful Fatah parliamentary bloc rejected alZurfi’s candidacy signaling a rocky path to government formation for the new premier-designate.

An earlier premier-designate, Mohammed Allawi, withdrew his candidacy after political groups rejected his proposed Cabinet lineup.

Fatah, headed by Hadi alAmeri, garnered the second highest number of seats in parliament in the May 2018 federal election.

In a statement, the bloc accused Saleh of “disregarding” the constitution and naming al-Zurfi in the absence of political consensus. “The president of the republic shall endure full responsibility for the repercussions of this provocative step.”

“We will take all measures to prevent this disregard of the law and constitution,” the statement said.

Al-Zurfi, 54, was appointed by Iraq’s U.S. administrator Paul Bremer as governor of Najaf in 2004 and later served in the same post between 2009 and 2015. His third term was cut short following his dismissal by the provincial council. In the May 2018 election he won a seat in parliament under former Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s list.

According to Iraq’s constitution, al-Zurfi has 30 days to propose a lineup of ministers and form a new government. Saleh wished al-Zarfi success “in his new tasks to work for early and fair elections and to achieve the aspirations of the Iraqis,” according to a statement from his office.

Early elections have been a key demand of anti-government protesters camped out in the capital’s Tahrir Square. Last October, thousands took to the streets to decry government corruption, poor services and unemployment. Abdul-Mandi resigned under pressure from the demonstrations.

Subsequently, Allawi’s efforts to form a government were plagued with delays and dysfunction as legislators failed on two occasions to approve his Cabinet of independents, which alienated Iraqi Kurdish and Sunni lawmakers.

Anti-government protesters said they rejected alZurfi’s nomination. In Tahrir Square, demonstrators marked his portrait with an “X.”

“This political class could never select a candidate we’d endorse,” said protester Mustafa Ali, 26.

Al-Zurfi’s appointment came hours before a curfew imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic was to take effect in Baghdad as Iraq struggles to contain the spread of the virus.