Demonstrators block roads and bridges in southern cities by burning tyres to condemn Iran's influence and leaders who have failed to agree on a new premier.

Iraqi demonstrators burn tires to block a street during ongoing anti-government protests in Kerbala, Iraq on December 23, 2019.
Iraqi demonstrators burn tires to block a street during ongoing anti-government protests in Kerbala, Iraq on December 23, 2019. (Reuters)

Thousands of protesters blocked roads and bridges in southern Iraq on Monday, condemning Iranian influence and political leaders who have missed another deadline to agree on a new prime minister.

Anti-government demonstrators burned tyres in major cities across the south, forcing the closure of schools and government buildings, AFP news agency reported as political paralysis deepened in Baghdad.

Demonstrators announced civil disobedience campaigns in the southern cities of Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, Hilla, Kut, and Amara, where schools and public buildings were closed on Monday.

"We are upping our actions because we oppose any candidate from the political class that has been robbing us since 2003," said Ali al Diwani, a young protester in Diwaniyah.

Deadlocked talks

Negotiations over a candidate to replace erstwhile premier Adil Abdul Mahdi, who quit in November in the face of protests against corruption and unemployment, remained stalemated as midnight on Sunday deadline expired.

While a pro-Iran camp has tried to impose a candidate, Iraqi President Barham Saleh has reportedly put up resistance.

On the street, protesters are mobilising anew after weeks of relative calm in a movement that has seen hundreds die in clashes with security forces.

For Iraqis protesting since October 1, the system installed by the United States after it led a coalition to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 has become dominated by Iran and is beyond reform.

An economic revival promised for 16 years never came, protesters say, while more than half of all oil revenues were siphoned off by crooked politicians and their cronies.

Political paralysis

While renewed protests risk a resumption of the violence that has already caused 460 deaths and 25,000 injuries since October, the government remains paralysed.

Officials say Iran wants to install Qusay al Suhail, who served as a higher education minister in the government of Abdul Mahdi.

A former key member of Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr's movement, Suhail rejoined the State of Law Alliance of former premier Nuri al Maliki, who is close to Iran and an enemy of Sadr.

While pro-Iran factions and parliament speaker Mohammed al Halbusi are pushing for Suhail, a source in the presidency says Saleh has vetoed his appointment.

Demonstrators also categorically reject his candidacy and that of anyone from the wider political establishment.

"What we want is simple: a prime minister who is competent and independent, who has never been involved with the ruling parties since 2003," said Mohammed Rahman, a protesting engineer in Diwaniyah.

Protesters say an overhaul of the political system must start with electoral reform.

Since 2003, elections have used a complicated mix of proportional representation and list voting that favours major parties and the heads of lists.

Protesters say they want a first-past-the-post system to "guarantee a new generation could enter politics to clean up everything the ruling parties have corrupted," Rahman told AFP.

Parliament has recently discussed electoral reform and was scheduled to resume talks Monday afternoon.

Lawmakers were also likely to continue negotiations to appoint a premier, the deadline for which has already been pushed back twice by Saleh.

Source: AFP