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US contractor killed, troops wounded as Iran-bloc says Baghdad caves in to DC

WASHINGTON, Dec 28, (Agencies): A US defense contractor was killed and several American and Iraqi troops were wounded Friday in a rocket attack in northern Iraq, US officials said.

According to officials, the attack involved as many as 30 rockets fired at the Iraqi military compound near Kirkuk, where US service members are also based. Officials did not provide the exact number of troops wounded in the attack or the severity of the injuries.

They spoke on condition of anonymity to describe details before they were made public. Such attacks have taken place on several occasions over the past few months, with US officials for the most part blaming Iran-backed fighters. Col Myles Caggins, a spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria, said Iraqi security forces were leading the investigation and response to the attack.

Iraq has been roiled since Oct 1 by protests that have left more than 450 people dead, the vast majority of them demonstrators killed by security forces firing tear-gas and live ammunition. The mass uprisings prompted the resignation of former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi late last month. Iran-supported groups on Friday blasted Iraq’s president for not naming their preferred prime minister candidate, saying his decision was at the behest of the United States, and warned him not to designate anyone who could be “an agent of the Americans.”

In refusing to appoint Fatah-backed candidate Asaad al- Eidani on Thursday, President Barham Salih said he was responding to broad opposition by anti-government protesters who have flooded the streets for nearly three months to demand the overthrow of Iraq’s entire political class. The protesters accuse the government of corruption and mismanagement and have demanded an independent prime minister candidate. On Friday evening, thousands of them poured into Baghdad’s Tahrir Square to express their support for Salih’s decision. But in a statement Friday, the Hezbollah Brigades, or Kataeb Hezbollah, called the president’s move “suspicious.”

“We know that he is carrying out an American will that aims to pull the country toward chaos,” the statement said. Legislator Odai Awad, a member of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, called Salih a coward in an interview with a local TV station and said “every Iraqi should spit in the face of the president for what he did.” The Iran-affiliated groups said the president had violated the constitution “by refusing to carry out his duties” to name the candidate chosen by parliament’s largest bloc.

Since last year’s elections, however, politicians have disagreed over which bloc is the largest, a dispute that has led them to twice miss the deadline for naming a new premier. There are two main blocs in the Iraqi Parliament: Sairoon, led by populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr; and Fatah, headed by Hadi al-Amiri. But the numbers in the blocs have continued to change since the elections, with an unknown number of lawmakers leaving some blocs and joining others. In a statement Friday, protesters called the Iran-backed groups “blocs of corruption” that are doing everything they can to ensure that sects and ethnic groups hold the country’s top posts.

The Iraqis, on Friday, cautiously welcomed Salih’s decision to refuse to assign the candidate Asaad Al-Eidani as Prime Minister of the new Iraqi government. While there are no opinion polls to know the Iraqi street’s position on political decisions, the signs of welcoming the decision were more prevalent on the scene.

In Al-Tahrir Square, the stronghold of the protests in Baghdad, activists held a large banner with a picture of president Salih written on it, “Thank you, Barham, for standing with the demands of the masses and not responding to the candidates of corrupt parties.” Activists and prominent Iraqi pages with large followers on Facebook and Twitter have organized referendums about the president’s decision, which revealed a great welcome and in high proportions, and others posted tweets praising the decision.

However, others questioned the president’s motives and considered it part of a plan aimed at evading the responsibilities and constitutional duties entrusted to him. Meanwhile, the sit-ins continued Friday, according to eyewitnesses, in Baghdad and the central and southern governorates of the country, rejecting Al-Eidani and calling for an independent candidate to be appointed as next prime minister.

The Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani on Saturday warned against the complicated situation in Iraq, proposing that the legitimate demands of the demonstrators in Iraq should be realized. “We are following with concern the situation in Iraq, which is suffering a deep crisis, and it is necessary for everyone to deal with the situation with a national spirit and responsibly, away from political pressure,” a presidential statement quoted Barzani as saying.

Regarding assigning a candidate to head the next Iraqi government, Barzani pointed out that it appears that President Barham Salih is under great pressure, stressing that the choice must be based on constitutional foundations. He stressed choosing a national candidate to head the government and be acceptable to the political forces. Iraq has witnessed unprecedented protests against the government and corruption since last October causing major changes in the political scene.

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