Iraqi parties, regional allies debate new PM as violence hits Najaf, KarbalaArchive
BAGHDAD: Iraqi politicians and their regional allies gathered in Baghdad on Tuesday to discuss a way out of two months of protests that brought down the government, as violence hit southern cities Najaf and Karbala.
Demonstrators demanding root-and-branch reform have flooded the capital and the Shia-majority south since October in the largest grassroots movement the country has witnessed in years.
Seen as a threat to the ruling elite, the rallies were met with a heavy-handed response from security forces and armed groups that has left more than 420 people dead and nearly 20,000 wounded — the vast majority demonstrators.
After a fresh uptick of violence last week, prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi formally resigned and talks to find a replacement have intensified this week in Baghdad.
Among those attending the negotiations are two key allies of Iraq’s main Shia parties: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards commander Major General Qasem Soleimani and Lebanese power-broker Mohammad Kawtharany, a high-ranking political source said.
“Soleimani is in Baghdad to push for a particular candidate to succeed Abdel Mahdi,” the source said, without providing details.
Kawtharany, who is Lebanese militant group Hezbollah’s pointman on Iraq, “is also playing a large role in persuading Shia and Sunni political forces on this”, the source added.
Political powers in Iraq have long had close ties with counterparts in Iran and Lebanon further west, both of which have also been rocked by protests in recent weeks.
The United States said Soleimani’s presence showed that its arch-foe Iran was again “interfering” in Iraq.
Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2019