Iraq City Ex-Gov Named Prime Min-Des

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq's president on Tuesday named a former governor of the city of Najaf as prime minister-designate, following weeks of political infighting and a looming crisis amid a global pandemic.

Adnan al-Zurfi was appointed premier-designate by President Barham Saleh after tense meetings between rival political blocs that for weeks struggled to reach a consensus over a candidate to replace outgoing Premier Adil Abdul-Mahdi.

The development came after an earlier premier-designate, Mohammed Allawi, withdrew his candidacy after political groups rejected his proposed Cabinet lineup.

Al-Zurfi, 54, was appointed by Iraq's U.S. administrator Paul Bremer as governor of Najaf in 2004, and later served in the same post for two terms between 2009 and 2015. His second term was cut short following his dismissal by the provincial council. In the May 2018 election he ran under former Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi's list.

According to Iraq's constitution, al-Zurfi has 30 days to propose a lineup of ministers and form a new government.

His naming came hours before a curfew imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic was to take hold of Baghdad as Iraq struggles to contain the spread of the virus.

Residents of the Iraqi capital rushed Tuesday to stock up on last-minute supplies ahead of the start of the 11 p.m. curfew. Many were concerned it could be extended beyond a week's time, as announced by the government. Long lines formed at gas stations and supermarkets.

The effective lockdown coincides with the annual Shiite Muslim commemoration of the death of revered Imam Mousa al-Kazim. Thousands of Iraqis typically make the journey on foot to the shrine of the imam in the Khadimiya area outside Baghdad.

Pilgrims in the past few days have been stopped from carrying out the trek by security forces over the fears of the virus, which has infected more than 182,000 people and killed more than 7,100 globally.

Iraq has had 10 deaths from among 133 confirmed cases of the virus, which causes the COVID-19 illness. Most people experience only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and recover within weeks. But the virus is highly contagious and can be spread by people with no visible symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.