Iraqi Shi'ite leader threatens unrest if reforms blocked

Iraqi Shi'ite leader threatens unrest if reforms blocked

BAGHDAD - Powerful Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim leader Moqtada al-Sadr warned political party leaders on Friday they would face street protests if they obstruct a government overhaul planned by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to fight corruption.

Sadr also called on Abadi to announce a new cabinet lineup by Saturday that would see current ministers replaced by technocrats with no party affiliation to tackle systemic political patronage that has abetted bribery and embezzlement.

The influential cleric spoke in a Friday sermon delivered by a representative to tens of thousands of faithful outside the gates of Baghdad's fortified Green Zone that houses government offices, parliament and embassies.

Sadr's followers began a sit-in a week ago outside the Green Zone to pressure the government to see through anti-corruption pledges. Abadi has shown a willingness to act but has been slow to deliver on a reshuffle announced in February.

Corruption is depleting the central government's financial resources at a time when revenues are declining due to lower oil prices and Abadi needs to ramp up funding for the U.S.-backed war against Islamic State militants.

"If he brings a logical reform package to parliament and does not get enough votes, there will be a call to escalate protests against those who did not vote" for the proposed cabinet, said Sadr's envoy, Sheikh Asaad al-Nasiri.

"If (Abadi) does not announce a package that appeases the people, then we will have another stance we will announce tomorrow. We will not be content with a sit-in at the Green Zone," Nasiri added amid crowd chants of, "Yes, yes to Moqtada our leader!"

He did not mention a deadline which Sadr gave Abadi last month to implement reforms. The deadline expires next week.

Abadi has voiced concern that the Shi'ite street protests could spin out of control and put Iraq's security in danger when it needs to keep its focus on fighting Islamic State.

Iraq, a major OPEC producer that relies on oil exports for most of its revenue, ranked 161 out of 168 on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index in 2015.

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