Iraq's prime minister-designate Mohammad Allawi bowed out Sunday from the task of forming a government, as two rockets crashed near the US embassy in the capital's Green Zone.
Allawi's departure prolongs a political vacuum and plunges Iraq deeper into political uncertainty, leaving President Barham Saleh with 15 days to propose a new candidate, whom he can name unilaterally without consulting with parliament.
Responding to Allawi's statement, Saleh said he has started consultations to name a replacement within the constitutional time frame.
Iraq has been in legal limbo since outgoing premier Adel Abdel Mahdi stepped down in December, as the constitution makes no provisions for such a resignation.
Allawi's latest move also marks the first time a premier-designate has backed out of forming a government, which means that constitutional deadlines and legal procedures moving forward remain largely unclear.
In a letter to Saleh, Allawi said he took his decision because "some political factions were not serious about reform or fulfilling their pledges to the people."
He said the repeated failure of lawmakers to convene a session to approve his cabinet was a clear sign that some were trying to obstruct his attempts to form a lineup of independents.
Iraq's bitterly divided parliament had failed three times to convene a confidence vote, with the latest attempt taking place only hours before Allawi's latest announcement.
Only 108 lawmakers of a total of 329 attended the session on Sunday. The vote had already been delayed twice last week.
Iraq is ranked 16th from the bottom in Transparency International's 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Even as a months-old protest movement rallies against rampant corruption, ministries are being bought and sold by political parties who have turned them into honey pots, according to political sources.
Anti-government demonstrators who have remained mobilised since October have rejected the choice of Allawi for premier, saying he is too close to the elite against which they have protesting.
They have backed instead Alaa al-Rikaby, a pharmacist who has emerged as a prominent activist in the protest hotspot of Nasiriyah south of the capital.
Iraq's president, however, intends to propose intelligence chief Mustafa al-Kazimi as premier, according to political sources.
Populist cleric Moqtada Sadr, regarded as a backer of the protest movement before he rescinded his support last month, hailed Allaw's decision as one taken "for the love of Iraq."
He condemned other "corrupt" politicians for "holding the country hostage."
Rockets crash in Green Zone
Allawi's successor will inherit the daunting task of reconciling the government with an angry street following months of protests which have left nearly 550 dead and 30,000 injured, mostly protesters.
In another challenge, the successor must also bridge major rifts between rival factions over ties with the United States and Iran, Iraq's two main foreign protagonists.
Parties representing the Shiite majority have cast a non-binding vote in parliament for the immediate departure of the 5,200 US troops stationed in Iraq, over objections from the Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers.
Amid the latest political twist, two rockets landed in Baghdad's Green Zone, where the US embassy and American troops are based, said the Iraqi military.
The rockets landed near the US embassy, said a security source, in the 20th attack against US assets in the country in four months.
None of the multiple attacks since October targeting either the US embassy or American troops stationed across Iraq has been claimed.
But the US has pointed the finger at Iran-backed groups within the Hashed al-Shaabi, a military network officially incorporated into Iraq’s state security forces.