BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Angry Iraqi lawmakers halted an attempt by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to appoint the remainder of his government on Tuesday, disrupting a parliamentary session meant to include a vote on his candidates for key ministries.
The deadlock over forming a cabinet has raised the prospect of further unrest as the country struggles to rebuild and recover after three years of war with Islamic State.
MPs banged on tables shouting “illegitimate”, eventually forcing and end to the session as Abdul Mahdi and his proposed ministers left parliament, one lawmaker said, showing Reuters a video of the session taken on his mobile phone.
The MPs were mostly from a grouping led by populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and allies on the list of former premier Haider al-Abadi, who opposed his picks for the hotly contested interior and defence ministries.
Abdul Mahdi later said he would let parliament propose a date for the vote, effectively throwing the ball in their court to choose suitable names for the eight portfolios still empty.
He told journalists he was “waiting for parliament to give a date to complete the cabinet after they come to an agreement”, saying that a “state of chaos” had prevented the formation of a government, state TV reported.
“We will not present more ministers. Parliament (should) vote on the current list, or another list”, state TV quoted the premier as saying.
The incident vividly showed the depth of disagreement over who should fill the remaining government posts, and Abdul Mahdi’s weak position in the face of divisions between parliament’s two strongest groupings.
The rivalry between Sadr and Iran-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, who lead the two biggest blocs after a general election in May, has intensified preventing the formation of a full government, which currently has 14 out of 22 ministers.
Sadr says candidates not affiliated with political sides must be presented. Amiri wants his ally Falih al-Fayyadh, former head of an Iran-backed paramilitary force, for the position of interior minister.
Abdel Mahdi said in a statement on Monday he would present Fayyadh as his candidate for the interior for parliament to vote on.
Sadr and Abadi’s lists refused to attend the session in response but stormed in halfway through, charging that the session did not have a quorum to take place.
Sadr has threatened to withdraw support for the government if it is not formed soon and whip up popular protests.
Lack of jobs and services led to mass protests in the southern city of Basra in September.
On Tuesday police dispersed dozens of protesters in Basra in a similar but small demonstration, witnesses said.
Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Aref Mohammed in Basra; Writing by John Davison; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg