Iraq PM blames ‘foreign influences’ in row

BAGHDAD — Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Wednesday blamed “foreign influences” for a protracted political crisis that has seen political blocs opposed to him press for his ouster.

Maliki’s remarks came as the spokesman for the political movement loyal to powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said neighbouring Iran was working to avoid an oft-mooted parliamentary no-confidence motion against Maliki.

“Whenever we advance one step, we face new challenges, and foreign influences are not far away from this,” Maliki said in a statement without elaborating.

“What is happening with the conspiracy targeting the political process and the experience of democracy will end in failure,” he added defiantly.

Maliki also appeared to criticise parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, a leader of the secular mostly Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc that has been sharply opposed to him.

“Parliament sessions see a lot of delays in approving laws,” Maliki said in the statement. “Isn’t this a weakness in the administration of parliament?”

Iraq has been hit by a series of intertwined political crises that began in mid-December, with accusations by Iraqiya that Maliki was concentrating power in his hands. The crises have escalated into calls to unseat him.

The crises have paralysed government, especially parliament, which has passed no significant legislation except for the budget, while other important measures such as a hydrocarbons law regulating the country’s oil sector have been delayed.

Also on Wednesday, Sadrist spokesman Salah al-Obeidi told AFP a delegation of senior Sadrist officials were visiting Iran to discuss the political situation in Iraq, “especially the issue of the no-confidence vote against Maliki.”

“There is Iranian pressure being exerted on some parties in order to avoid that,” Obeidi said, referring to the no-confidence vote.

Obeidi, however, insisted that the Sadrist political bloc, which has around 40 MPs in parliament and five cabinet ministers in the national unity government, would continue to call for a no-confidence motion against Maliki.

Sadr himself has previously criticised the premier as a “dictator” hungry for acclaim, and accused him of seeking to postpone or cancel elections.