Iraq president names ex-Najaf governor Adnan Zurfi as premier: state TV

BAGHDAD, AFP: Iraqi president Barham Saleh named Adnan Zurfi, the former governor of the Shiite holy city of Najaf, as the new prime minister Tuesday, the second attempt to find a head of government in recent months.

Zurfi, a 54-year-old lawmaker, has 30 days to form his cabinet which he must then put to a vote of confidence in Iraq's notoriously divided parliament.

He would replace outgoing premier Adel Abdel Mahdi, who resigned in December following popular mass rallies against a government that protesters see as corrupt, inept and beholden to powerful neighbor Iran.

Zurfi, who served as governor of the predominantly Shi'ite Najaf province during the U.S. occupation after the fall of Saddam Hussein, is head of the small Nasr parliamentary group of former prime minister Haider al-Abadi, a U.S. ally.

Lawmakers told Reuters that President Barham Salih had named Zurfi only after larger rival Shi'ite political parties failed to decide on a successor to Adel Abdul Mahdi, who resigned in November during mass unrest in which hundreds of people died.

Zurfi, who lived in the United States as a refugee in the 1990s after fleeing Saddam, is seen as a comparatively secular figure in a country long dominated by sectarian parties.

He now has to win the confidence of parliament for his new cabinet, a difficult task as major Iranian-backed groups objected to his nomination.

"Zurfi will face tough resistance inside parliament and he will need a miracle to pass his government," said a Shi'ite lawmaker, on condition of anonymity.

If Zurfi can secure parliamentary approval for his cabinet, he would run the country until early elections can be held.

He is the second politician Salih has tapped to try to form a government since Adel Mahdi announced his resignation. On Feb. 1, Salih named Mohammed Allawi as prime minister-designate, but he withdrew candidacy for the post a month later, accusing political parties of obstructing him.

Since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam, cabinets have been formed through a sectarian power-sharing system, leading to widespread horse-trading among various sects and parties.

The announcement came just hours after Iraq faced a new rocket attack targeting foreign troops stationed at military bases across the country.

Two rockets hit the Besmaya base about 60 kilometers south of Baghdad before dawn on Tuesday, according to the Iraqi military, the US-led coalition and NATO, which all have forces stationed there.

The Iraqi military made no mention of casualties and a NATO press officer told AFP that none of its forces were hurt in the attack.


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