Iraq on knife edge as protesters reject 'pro-Iran' al-Suhail

Al-Sistani said he hopes the formation of a new Iraqi government is not delayed for long amid continuing crisis

Thousands of protesters blocked roads, bridges and building entrances in several cities in southern Iraq on Sunday to demand an independent prime minister as the deadline to choose an interim leader looms.

There are now two main blocs in Iraq's parliament: Sairoon, led by populist Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and Fatah, which includes leaders associated with the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Units, headed by Hadi al-Amiri.

Protests have rocked Iraq since October 1, with over 400 people killed and 19,000 injured, according to the United Nations special envoy to Iraq.

Parliament speaker Mohammed Al Halbusi, a Sunni, has announced he has dropped his support for Suhail, after a source in the presidency said Saleh had vetoed the proposed appointment.

Lawmakers will from now be elected in first-past-the-post contests within electoral districts, rather than through a complex system using provincial party lists and proportional representation.

Negotiations on a candidate to replace him have remained stagnant since the last of a series of deadlines expired at midnight on Sunday.

Mass protests have gripped Iraq since October over official corruption and a lack of jobs, as well as frustration with the political system in place since the 2003 US -led invasion.

But protesters in Tahrir Square, the hub of the protest movement in Iraq's capital city Baghdad, rejected the nomination, saying al-Eidani represents the establishment.

Protesters have demanded not just a new electoral law, but also the removal of the entire political class and an independent prime minister with no party affiliation.

Al-Suheil was nominated for prime minister by Fatah and their allies.Sairoon is insisting that the candidate be selected by the anti-government protesters on the street.

"We call on all politicians who came after 2003 to leave the government and surrender power".

In Karbala and Najaf, two Shiite holy cities, striking students closed schools and gathered in their thousands, AFP correspondents said.

According to the number of seats won in the last election, Sairoon is the largest bloc.

"Iraqis took to the streets to change the political system and put an end to Muhasasa system", said Rubaei, referring to the sectarian quota-based political system, which Iraqi protesters want abolished.

The same day, President Saleh sent the court's response to parliament, asking the legislature to say which is the largest bloc.

"This decision is the decision of the people; the people who were patient here in Tahrir Square".

Iraq's constitution requires that the parliament's largest bloc name a candidate for the premiership within 15 days of accepting the prime minister's resignation.

It wasn't immediately clear if the new law went far enough for Iraq's leaderless protest movement.

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