Iraq's president named intelligence chief Mustafa al-Kadhimi as prime minister-designate on 09 April 2020, the third person tapped to lead the country in just 10 weeks as it struggles to replace a government that fell last year after months of deadly protests. Kadhimi was nominated by President Barham Salih, state television reported, shortly after the previous designated prime minister, Adnan al-Zurfi, announced he was withdrawing having failed to secure enough support to pass a government.
Iraq, exhausted by decades of sanctions, war and political corruption now faces economic ruin, social unrest and a growing outbreak of the new coronavirus, all of which it must face with only a caretaker cabinet. Adel Abdul Mahdi, who resigned under pressure from anti-government protests in November, still heads the government as caretaker prime minister. Salih's first choice to replace him, Mohammed Allawi, withdrew on March 1 after four fruitless weeks trying to gain support.
Like Salih's previous choices to replace Abdul Mahdi, Kadhimi is seen as a political independent, who will have to amass support from the powerful sectarian parties that dominate Iraq's legislature to approve a cabinet within a month.
The former journalist, who wrote against dictator Saddam Hussein from exile in Iran and Britain, returned after the U.S. invasion in 2003. He has held his role heading intelligence since 2016. "I will work tirelessly to to present Iraqis with a program and cabinet that will work to serve them, protect their rights and take Iraq towards a prosperous future," Kadhimi wrote on Twitter. With my mandate to lead the Iraqi government, I pledge to my honourable people to work to form a government that puts the aspirations and demands of Iraqis as the top priority," al-Kadhimi tweeted shortly after his appointment was announced.
A ceremony was attended by the country's top political figures, indicating widespread support for al-Kadhimi, 53, that neither of the previous prime minister-designates had enjoyed. That backing was the result of a flurry of political meetings over the past week aimed at a reaching consensus on al-Kadhimi, the head of Iraq's National Intelligence Service. Among them were gatherings attended by Iranian General Esmail Qaani, who has headed Iran's elite Quds Force foreign operations unit after the US assassinated his predecessor, Qassem Soleimani, in an air strike in Baghdad in January 2020.
Al-Kadhimi had long had close links with the United States, but political sources said he has also improved ties with Iran in recent months. He now had 30 days to submit his cabinet lineup to the 329-member parliament for a vote of confidence. Although he seems to have secured widespread support at the moment, that could quickly change. Many in Iraq question whether he's really the one who can put an end to months of political uncertainty.
Tehran holds vast political and military influence in Iraq, and its approval is seen as necessary for any prime ministerial candidate. Pro-Iran factions staunchly opposed the nomination of al-Zurfi to the premiership, which ultimately forced the politician to withdraw his candidacy.
Iraq's sectarian power-sharing system has prevented any real political reform demanded by thousands of protesters who first took to the streets in October 2019. The demonstrators accuse parties from across Iraq's ethno-sectarian spectrum of mostly Shi'ite, Sunni Muslims and Kurds of being only interested in keeping their positions of power. The deadlock leaves Iraq in crisis. COVID-19 has killed 69 people and infected over 1,200, according to the health ministry and the World Health Organization. A rapid spread of the disease could quickly overwhelm Iraq's battered healthcare system. Falling oil prices caused by the global pandemic have upended Iraq's budget which is based on a oil prices of nearly twice their current value. Without a sitting government Iraq cannot officially review its budget.
Kazimi appears to have secured both American and Iranian support, a must for a country like Iraq, a Shia-majority state, which has heavily suffered since the 2003 American invasion. Until the last minute, there were tough negotiations and at some point he even considered rejecting the offer for the premiership. Kazimi has been accepted by most of the Iraqi political factions because there was no other option to unlock the political system. “But none of them are content with him, Washington wants to sit down with a working government to negotiate a strategic cooperation agreement and as a result, they need a friendly government in Baghdad. Kazimi’s future strategic cooperation agreement with the US will ultimately be crucial for the future stability and security of the Kurdish region. As a result, Kurds strongly support Kazimi. Iran’s moderate foreign ministry forces also supported Kazimi in order to open up the political system. But Tehran’s radical Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps opposed the move. “The Revolutionary Guards could eventually make him fall from power.
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