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As Iraqi protesters rally, political deadlock leaves families without cash

Supporters of the Coordination Framework, several Shi’ite parties, gather throughout a sit-in, amid a political crisis, close to the Green Zone, in Baghdad, Iraq August 13, 2022. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani

  • Support for thousands of families on the line
  • Political deadlock has lasted 10 months since election
  • Amid protests, some efforts at dialogue

BAGHDAD, Aug 19 (Reuters) – Sabreen Khalil lost her husband to COVID this past year, leaving her to improve seven children alone, but Iraqi government funding to greatly help her and thousands of families in poverty is blocked by political stalemate.

With politicians deadlocked over forming a fresh government since an election in October, rival Shi’ite Muslim factions in Baghdad on Friday continued their weeks-long protests that have prevented parliament from meeting.

The standoff has raised fears of renewed unrest in a country where militias wield significant power and has already been going for a toll on probably the most vulnerable.

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“I’m a female and suddenly I had to take the duty of seven children alone…it broke my back,” Khalil said, talking about the impact of her husband’s death.

Sitting on to the floor in her one-bedroom brick house in the village of Saada on the outskirts of Baghdad, she said she cannot afford treatment on her behalf chronic illness and that her children need to skip some meals as food prices soar.

Nine months after trying to get a government pension, she’s received nothing from the ministry of labour and social affairs. “Each and every time we go they reveal ‘We are looking forward to a budget’,” she said.

The official at the ministry said Khalil qualifies for support but confirmed there is absolutely no funding to supply it. “Our hands are tied since there is no budget,” the state, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

Her family is among about 370,000 families who be eligible for the pension but aren’t receiving it due to the political deadlock, the state said.

ATTEMPT AT DIALOGUE

Iraq’s 10-month standoff because the election may be the longest stretch with out a fully functioning government in the nearly 2 decades since Saddam Hussein was overthrown in a U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Rival Shi’ite groups desire to visit a new government formed, but disagree on the steps to accomplish it.

Supporters of the powerful Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who fought U.S. occupation forces before emerging because the main opponent of Iran-backed Shi’ite militias and their political leaders, has demanded fresh elections.

Sadr was the largest winner of last year’s election but was struggling to form a government alongside Kurdish and Sunni Muslim Arab parties, excluding his Iran-backed Shi’ite rivals.

Those rivals, known collectively because the Coordination Framework, say an election can only just take place following a government is formed to lead a transition period where legislation including a fresh election law ought to be passed.

“There’s consensus over dissolving parliament and holding early elections, the problem is with the mechanism,” a source in the caretaker government said, adding that talks were ongoing.

On Wednesday, caretaker Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi met political leaders and called on Sadr’s supporters to become listed on a national dialogue. He also known as on all sides to suspend any political escalation.

Sadr didn’t attend the meeting, and his supporters show little public enthusiasm for the initiative.

“These dialogues usually do not serve the interest of the united states… They serve your interests as well as your parties’ interests also to keep you in power,” an imam told a huge selection of Sadr’s followers who gathered to protest outside parliament on Friday.

Some carried portraits of Sadr and his late father, also a prominent cleric, in addition to Iraqi flags.

A large number of supporters of the Coordination Framework also protested beyond your heavily protected Green Zone.

Hamdi Malik, a co-employee fellow at the Washington Institute and an expert on Iraq’s Shi’ite militias, said that despite some efforts to bridge the differences there were little prospect of swift results.

“The division is indeed wide that I cannot see any solution and the chance of clashes is in fact increasing,” Malik said.

Parliament did pass a crisis bill in June allocating vast amounts of dollars to get wheat, rice and gas also to pay salaries, but other government business has stalled.

A prominent Iraqi rights activist said the political factions were all in charge of the deadlock and ordinary Iraqis were paying the purchase price.

“Anger is rising up on the list of people. Fiscal conditions have worsened and unemployment is increasing,” said Hanaa Edwar. Leaders are “holding dialogues to redistribute the spoils amongst politicians”, she said.

Khalil meanwhile continues to be waiting in Saada, this means “happiness” in Arabic, for the federal government to come quickly to her aid. She said the political process had not been working.

“They state it’s wrong if we don’t vote,” she said. “But elections didn’t change anything.”

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Additional reporting by Maher Nazih in Baghdad; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Nick Macfie

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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