Iraqi leaders bicker and brawl in parliament as political crisis grows

Sunday, 17 April 2016 17:12

shafaq news / Schoolyard-style chaos descended on Iraq’s parliament Wednesday as lawmakers scuffled and threw water bottles

at one another amid a political crisis that is destabilizing the country.

In a day of bickering and brawls in Baghdad, more than 100 members of parliament signed a petition calling for the resignations of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, President Fouad Massoum and the speaker of parliament, Salim al-Jubouri, lawmakers said. About the same number are staging a sit-in in the parliament building.

In reaction, Jubouri said he was looking to dissolve the assembly, raising the prospect of early elections. The move would give a “new generation” of lawmakers the ability to bring about reform, his spokesman said.

The fighting marked the escalation of a crisis that has been building since summer, when Iraqis took to the streets to protest graft and government waste, piling pressure on Abadi, whose attempts at reform have been stymied by political rivals. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has further stirred the street in recent months, calling for a new cabinet of “technocrats” and drawing out hundreds of thousands to protest.

Abadi is facing a multitude of challenges as the government attempts to win back territory from the Islamic State. The country is also seeking financial bailouts as it grapples with plunging oil prices.

Demonstrators protested in Baghdad, Basra and other towns in southern Iraq on Wednesday. The unrest in the capital has led to some units in the battle against the Islamic State being called back from the front lines to keep the peace.

Abadi’s attempts at an overhaul have so far run into opposition. A session called to vote on his reshuffled cabinet was delayed Tuesday amid similar scenes of chaos.

The dispute in parliament on Wednesday began after Kurdish members said they had arrived at the day’s emergency session, which was called to vote on the new cabinet, and discovered that other lawmakers had broken their nameplates.

“We don’t accept any insult like this,” Alaa Talibani told parliament. Coming on the eve of the day of remembrance for Kurds killed by Saddam Hussein in the Anfal campaign, “you are insulting their blood,” she said.

The dispute boiled over into a brawl involving Shiite and Kurdish members.

Parliament can be abolished upon the request of a third of its members, with the support of the majority. Elections should then be called within 60 days, according to the constitution. It remains unclear how Iraq could carry out fair elections when large parts of the country are under Islamic State control.