Iran-backed groups accuse Iraqi president of caving to US for rejecting PM pick
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Iran-backed groups accuse Iraqi president of caving to US for rejecting PM pick

Hezbollah Brigades accuse Barham Saleh of seeking ‘to pull the country toward chaos,’ while anti-government protesters call organizations supported by Tehran ‘blocs of corruption’

In this photo from June 23, 2017, supporters of Iraqi Hezbollah brigades march on a representation of an Israeli flag with a portrait of late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)
In this photo from June 23, 2017, supporters of Iraqi Hezbollah brigades march on a representation of an Israeli flag with a portrait of late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iran-supported groups on Friday blasted Iraq’s president for not naming their preferred prime minister candidate, saying his decision was at the behest of the United States, and warned him not to designate anyone who could be “an agent of the Americans.”

In refusing to appoint Fatah-backed candidate Asaad al-Eidani on Thursday, Iraqi President Barham Saleh said he was responding to broad opposition by anti-government protesters who have flooded the streets for nearly three months to demand the overthrow of Iraq’s entire political class.

The protesters accuse the government of corruption and mismanagement and have demanded an independent prime minister candidate. On Friday evening, thousands of them poured into Baghdad’s Tahrir Square to express their support for Saleh’s decision.

But in a statement Friday, the Hezbollah Brigades, or Kataeb Hezbollah, called the president’s move “suspicious.”

“We know that he is carrying out an American will that aims to pull the country toward chaos,” the statement said.

Iraqi President Barham Saleh speaks during a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, February 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, Pool)

Legislator Odai Awad, a member of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, called Saleh a coward in an interview with a local TV station and said “every Iraqi should spit in the face of the president for what he did.”

The Iran-affiliated groups said the president had violated the constitution “by refusing to carry out his duties” to name the candidate chosen by parliament’s largest bloc.

Since last year’s elections, however, politicians have disagreed over which bloc is the largest, a dispute that has led them to twice miss the deadline for naming a new premier.

There are two main blocs in the Iraqi Parliament: Sairoon, led by populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr; and Fatah, headed by Hadi al-Amiri. But the numbers in the blocs have continued to change since the elections, with an unknown number of lawmakers leaving some blocs and joining others.

In a statement Friday, protesters called the Iran-backed groups “blocs of corruption” that are doing everything they can to ensure that sects and ethnic groups hold the country’s top posts.

A protester hits a poster with a defaced picture of Assaad al-Aidani, the Iran-backed parliamentary bloc’s nominee for the post of the prime minister, and Arabic that reads “rejected by the people,” with a shoe during anti-government demonstrations in Baghdad, Iraq, December 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Later Friday, two mortar shells hit an arms depot at a base hosting US troops near the northern city of Kirkuk, wounding two Iraqi soldiers, an Iraqi official said. No Americans were hurt, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.

Such attacks have taken place on several occasions over the past few months, with US officials for the most part blaming Iran-backed fighters.

Also Friday, in a sign of the country’s deep divisions, a representative of Iraq’s most powerful religious authority, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, did not deliver a political sermon Friday, instead restricting his comments to religion.

Iraq has been roiled by protests since October 1 that have left more than 450 people dead, the vast majority of them demonstrators killed by security forces firing tear gas and live ammunition. The mass uprisings prompted the resignation of former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi late last month.

Saleh said Thursday that he would not name al-Eidani, the governor of southern Basra province, as the country’s next prime minister “to avoid more bloodshed and in order to safeguard civil peace.”

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