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Iraqi president threatens to quit over pro-Iran PM pick

By AFP

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Iraqi anti-government protestors hold up a defaced poster of Assaad al-Aidani, the governor of Basra, during a demonstration in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on December 26th. Al-Aidani is seen as beholden to Iran, which Iraqis accuse of interfering in Iraqi affairs. [Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP]

Iraq's president said Thursday (December 26th) he was "ready to resign" rather than put forward the candidate of a pro-Iranian coalition for the post of prime minister.

Barham Saleh's announcement came as anti-government protestors blocked roads and bridges in Baghdad and the country's south after torching several buildings overnight.

In a letter to parliament, Saleh said he wished to guarantee the "independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity" of Iraq.

But he cited the constitution, which obliges the president to task the candidate put forward by parliament's biggest bloc with forming a government.

"With all my respect to (Basra province governor) Mr. Assaad al-Aidani, I decline to put him forward" for the post, Saleh wrote.

As that could be seen as violating the constitution, "I place before members of parliament my readiness to resign from the position of president", Saleh added.

Al-Aidani is considered the candidate of Iran, which protestors accuse of meddling in Iraqi affairs.

Deadlock

Weeks into a protest movement that has rocked Baghdad and Iraq's south, leaving hundreds dead, parliament is in deadlock over the selection of a replacement for previous prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

The demonstrators oppose the entire political class and have vented their anger against leaders who are negotiating to nominate an establishment insider as the next prime minister.

Pro-Iranian factions have touted outgoing higher education minister Qusay al-Suhail for the post, later opting for al-Aidani after the president rejected Suhail's nomination.

Both are unpopular choices with protestors, who also have slammed al-Aidani for crushing previous demonstrations in Basra province last year.

"We don't want Assaad the Iranian!" shouted protestors in the southern city of Kut on Thursday.

'Hostage to sectarian divisions'

"The government is hostage to corrupt parties and sectarian divisions," said one activist, Sattar Jabbar, 25, in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

Smoke and flames from burning tires in Nasiriyah, Basra and Diwaniyah blocked major roads and bridges across the Euphrates River all night, AFP correspondents said, before some of these roadblocks were lifted in the morning.

In Nasiriyah, demonstrators set the provincial government building ablaze overnight for a second time since the protests began, and protestors also torched the new headquarters of a pro-Iran militia in Diwaniyah.

Iraq has been rocked by protests since October 1st.

After dwindling, the street campaign has gained new vigor in recent days to rally against widespread corruption and a political system seen as beholden to neighbouring Iran.

Government offices and schools remain closed across almost all of Iraq's south.

Around 460 people have been killed and 25,000 wounded in nearly three months of clashes between protestors and security forces.

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