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Dozens of Iraq MPs hold parliament sit-in

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (R) listens to US Secretary of State John Kerry at the prime minister's palace in Baghdad on April 8, 2016.  Kerry visited Baghdad to back Iraq's government as it battles jihadists, struggles with a financial crisis and attempts to carry out reforms. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JONATHAN ERNST

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (R) listens to US Secretary of State John Kerry at the prime minister’s palace in Baghdad on April 8, 2016.<br />Kerry visited Baghdad to back Iraq’s government as it battles jihadists, struggles with a financial crisis and attempts to carry out reforms. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JONATHAN ERNST

Dozens of Iraqi lawmakers held an overnight sit-in at parliament to protest efforts by powerful political blocs to maintain control of key government posts, MPs said Wednesday.

The demonstration followed Tuesday’s postponement of a vote on a new lineup for the cabinet, which Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said should include technocrats instead of the current party-affiliated ministers.

He presented a list of nominees at the end of March, but powerful political blocs then put forward their own candidates and most of Abadi’s were replaced on a second list distributed to lawmakers on Tuesday.

Some MPs demanded the opportunity to vote on Abadi’s original list, but the session was adjourned without a vote on either the old or the new.

Parliament then descended into chaos, with lawmakers shaking their fists, chanting against political quotas and starting the sit-in.

An AFP journalist said that there were around 80 MPs taking part in the sit-in inside the parliament hall around midday on Wednesday, some of whom chanted: “Yes yes to reform, no no to (political) quotas!”

Thin mattresses on which MPs slept were spread around the entrance to the hall, the journalist said.

Under pressure from the sit-in and with some lawmakers calling for his replacement, parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi’s office announced that an emergency session would be held on Wednesday.

“More than 50 MPs from all the political blocs” took part in the overnight sit-in, said lawmaker Iskander Witwit.

“The sit-in will continue until the demands of the MPs are implemented,” he said.

MP Zainab al-Tai also said that around 55 lawmakers took part in the overnight sit-in inside the parliament building.

She said the main demand was the resignation of the parliament speaker, the premier and the president, and that more than 150 MPs — around half of parliament — had expressed support for those measures.

Iraqi ministries have for years been divied up between powerful political parties that run them as their personal fiefs, relying on them as a source of patronage and funds.

But even if the current cabinet lineup is replaced with independent, technocratic ministers — a change that faces major obstacles — that would only be the beginning of the process.

Ministries are packed with lower-level employees appointed on the basis of party and sectarian affiliation, and replacing them would face serious resistance.

Technocrat ministers would also lack the political cover afforded by party affiliation, and could face threats by armed groups opposed to changes they proposed.



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