Thousands of supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr held what they billed as a “joint” Sunni-Shi'ite prayer service Friday outside the main entrances to the government-controlled “Green Zone.” Sadr has given Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi a Saturday deadline to carry out governmental “reform” and install a new Cabinet composed of technocrats instead of political loyalists.
It was the sixth consecutive Friday that supporters of Iraq's mercurial Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr protested in central Baghdad to demand government reform. The mostly Shi'ite crowd chanted slogans and listened to a sermon by Sadr ally Sheikh Asad al-Nasiri.
Nasiri repeated a Sadr ultimatum to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that the Iraqi leader has until Saturday to present a new government to parliament. Nasiri also threatened to raise the stakes against lawmakers.
He says his supporters want to see the prime minister come up with convincing, new reforms, including an independent government of technocrats, with new ministers loyal to the people and not to the political parties which are battling to dominate the political arena.
Nasiri pledged to support Prime Minister Abadi if he goes ahead and presents the new government to parliament, but warned of the potential wrath of demonstrators if the legislators vote down the new administration.
A member of the parliamentary committee vetting potential candidates for the government positions told Iraqi state TV that ministers will be required to have strong experience:
He says the committee is requiring ministerial candidates to have a higher degree in their field of specialization and at least 15 years of experience, as well as a plan of action.
Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, tells VOA that he thinks authentic reform will require more than a new government of technocrats.
"The new Iraqi political system was modeled after Lebanon's. That is: a confessional political system, based on sectarian and ethnic accommodation. The political system in itself invites corruption. So, unless we deal with the political question and the future of Iraq as a nation-state, dealing with corruption is a waste of time," said Khashan.
Iraqi TV indicated that Prime Minister Abadi has spent the past 24 hours meeting with the country's top political leaders to win their approval for his new government.