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Iraq's Abadi, facing unrest, hopes anti-graft cabinet can be named in coming days

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, threatened with mass protests over delays in tackling corruption, voiced hope on Monday that Iraq’s parliament could vote “in the next few days” on a cabinet of non-party technocrats.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks during a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq in this still image from video April 15, 2016. REUTERS/Iraqiya TV via Reuters TV

On Saturday, powerful Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr warned he would call for major street protests if the nation’s leaders failed by Tuesday afternoon to name a technocratic cabinet geared to weeding out graft and mismanagement.

Delays in naming a new government, and political and

sectarian wrangling over who should be in it, have paralysed

politics in Iraq. Parliament has already postponed the vote on Abadi’s government overhaul three times.

Abadi has said political turmoil could jeopardise the armed forces’ campaign against Islamic State militants who still control large tracts of territory in the north and west of Iraq, including the city of Mosul.

Thousands held a sit-in on Monday near the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses the parliament and government offices, in support of Sadr’s warning to the politicians.

``We’re waiting for what Sayyid Moqtada will say tomorrow,’’ when the deadline the cleric gave is up, said one of the demonstrators.

Iraq, a major OPEC exporter which sits on one of the world’s

largest crude reserves, ranks a low 161 out of 168 countries on

Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

“I am looking forward to parliament performing its legislative and supervisory role fully, and voting on the ministerial change in the coming days and as soon as possible,’’ Abadi said in a statement on his website.

He called on parliament “to convene immediately in order to overcome the obstacles” - a reference to a dispute between MPs about the legitimacy of speaker Salim al-Jabouri.

A large bloc in parliament is refusing to meet under Jabouri’s chairmanship, blaming him for not holding a session where they can grill Abadi on his proposed cabinet line-up.

Jabouri blamed the prime minister’s no-show at a session he called for on Thursday.

Corruption and fiscal mismanagement became a major issue in Iraq after oil prices collapsed in 2014, shrinking the state budget at a time when it needed additional income to pay for the war against Islamic State.

Abadi announced his government overhaul in February under pressure from the Shi’ite clergy as the population continues to suffer high unemployment and lack of basic services.

Sadr called off a wave of protests his supporters started at the end of February when the premier presented on March 31 a line-up of candidates made up of independent professionals.

Abadi then modified his list under pressure from parliament’s dominant political group that has built its influence and wealth on a system of patronage put in place since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Ralph Boulton