BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi President Barham Salih refused on Thursday to designate the nominee of an Iran-backed parliamentary bloc for prime minister, saying he would rather resign than appoint someone to the position who would be rejected by protesters.
The Bina bloc, led by Iran-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, had nominated Basra Governor Asaad al-Edani to be the next prime minister.
But Salih said in a statement that appointing Edani would not placate protesters demanding an independent prime minister with no party affiliation or help calm the unrest that has rocked the country.
He said that because the constitution does not give him the right to reject nominees for the premiership, he was ready to quit.
“Out of my desire to stop blood and maintain peace, and with due respect to Asaad al-Edani, I refuse to nominate him,” Salih said. “Therefore I put my willingness to resign the post of president to members of parliament so that they decide as representatives of the people what they see fit.”
Mass protests have gripped Iraq since Oct. 1 and the protesters, most of them young, are demanding an overhaul of a political system they see as profoundly corrupt and keeping most Iraqis in poverty. More than 450 people have been killed.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned last month as the protests continued, but he has remained in office in a caretaker capacity.
Sources in Salih’s office said the president left Baghdad on Thursday for his hometown of Sulaimaniya in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq and that he would deliver a televised speech later.
Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Gareth Jones and Hugh Lawson