New Iraqi PM promises to release detained protesters

Iraq’s new Prime Minister Mohammad Allawi has pledged to release people detained for protesting, compensate the families of those killed, and work with the UN to implement the protesters’ demands.

The pledges follow a series of meetings this week with leaders of the protests against government corruption and failed public services that have rocked Baghdad and southern provinces since October.

“Since the beginning of the week, Mohammad Allawi has held a string of meetings with several dozen representatives of protesters from the eight provinces taking part in the uprising,” Hisham Al-Hashemi, an Iraqi security expert present at the meetings, said on Wednesday.

Allawi, 65, has been communications minister twice since the US-led invasion of 2003, but stepped down both times because of corruption in the government.

Iraq is the 16th most corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International, and rooting out corruption has been a key demand of protesters.

Hashemi said Allawi had promised the protest delegations that he would confront embezzlement and the bloated public sector by changing up to 170 “acting” government officials and 450 directors-general in ministries.

Allawi also said up to two ministers in his Cabinet, which he has until March 2 to form, would be activists themselves, and that protesters could have a say in up to five ministerial nominations.

The Cabinet will be subject to a vote of confidence by Parliament. If it passes, Allawi will formally take up his role as prime minister. Until then, he is not able to implement executive decisions, including many of the reforms he is pledging.

Meanwhile, the top US commander for the Middle East has made an unannounced visit to Iraq as the Trump administration works to salvage relations with Iraqi leaders and head off the government’s push for a US troop withdrawal.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie said he was “heartened” by meetings with Iraqi leaders. “I think we’re going to be able to find a way forward,” he said.

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