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Iraq's president threatens to resign over Iran-backed bloc's nominee for PM

President Barham Salih refuses to designate Asaad al-Eidani as prime minister, a candidate rejected by protesters
Iraqis have been protesting since October for an overhaul of the political system (AFP)

Iraq's President Barham Salih has said he would rather resign than designate Asaad al-Eidani, the governor of Basra, as the country's new prime minister.

The Iran-backed Binaa bloc, the most powerful block in Iraq's parliament, had nominated Eidani to be the next prime minister, but his candidacy has been widely renounced by protesters who have been rallying since October against Iran's perceived interference in Iraqi politics.

"Out of my desire to stop blood and maintain peace, and with due respect to Asaad al-Eidani, I refuse to nominate him," Salih said in a statement on Thursday.

He added that because the constitution did not give him the right to reject nominees for the premiership, he was ready to quit.

'We don't want Assad the Iranian!'

- Protesters in Kut, a southern Iraqi city

"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."

Demonstrations have gripped Iraq since 1 October with protesters calling for a total overhaul of the country's political system.

The protesters have accused the ruling elite of enriching themselves off the state and serving the intrests of foreign powers - namely Iran - as many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, healthcare or education.

More than 450 people have been killed and 25,000 wounded in the protests.

Since the 2003 US-led invasion, power has been shared along ethno-sectarian lines among parties from Iraq's three largest communities.

The most powerful post, that of prime minister is held by a Shia Arab, the speaker of parliament is a Sunni Arab and the presidency is held by a Kurd.

'Dereliction of duty'

Protesters blocked roads and bridges in Baghdad and southern cities overnight Wednesday, torching buildings in protest against the internal negotiations by politicians to choose the next prime minister. 

The post was vacated last month when Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned.

"We don't want Assad the Iranian!" protesters shouted in Kut, a southern city. 

Sources in Salih's office said the president left Baghdad on Thursday for his hometown of Sulaymaniyah, in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq, and that he would deliver a televised speech later.

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Pro-Iran factions saw Salih as shirking his duties and Bina party lawmakers said it was grounds for impeachment.

"There are American pressures on President Barham Salih to prevent him from nominating the majority bloc nominee Edani," Bina lawmaker Hamid al-Moussawi said.

"The president threatening to resign is a dereliction of his constitutional duty and a dangerous step ... Barham admitted he was violating the constitution, which gives us the right to hold him accountable in parliament and dismiss him."

After fierce protests in Basra last year, Eidani told Middle East Eye that the idea of Iran's influence was exaggerated. 

"They don't have controlling power over Basra," he said.