Iraq's president on 17 March 2020 named pro-Western lawmaker and former Najaf city governor Adnan Zurfi as the next prime minister, tasked with ruling a country hit by military unrest, street protests and the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement late Tuesday, 54-year-old Zurfi pledged elections within a year of forming his cabinet and vowed to respond to the demands of protesters hitting the streets for months over government graft and inefficiency. He served multiple terms as governor of the Shiite holy city of Najaf and was elected in the 2018 parliamentary vote under the Nasr coalition, led by ex-PM Haider al-Abadi.
Zurfi had 30 days to pull together a cabinet, which would be put to a vote of confidence in parliament. While he was likely to have the backing of some Shiite parties and the Kurdish and Sunni factions, he was quickly spurned by the powerful Fatah bloc, parliament's second-largest coalition. But three weeks later, the head of Iraq's National Intelligence Service (NIS), Mustafa al-Kadhimi, was tapped on 09 April 2020 to be prime-minister designate, as the country cycled through potential leaders at a politically unstable time.
Zurfi had been rejected immediately by parties allied with Iran who viewed him as a threat to their political and economic power in Iraq, calling him an "American joker" for his ties with the U.S.-backed authorities that ruled Iraq after the 2003 invasion. He quite on the 17th anniversary of the day that U.S.-led troops occupied Baghdad.? Zurfi had signalled he would check the power of Iran-aligned militias in Iraq. Kurdish parties finally decided on Wednesday not to back Zurfi, sealing his fate. Zurfi said in a statement he was pulling out, citing "internal and external reasons" for his decision, without elaborating. "My decision not to proceed with my nomination is to preserve Iraq and its greatest interests," he said.
He served multiple terms as governor of the Shiite holy city of Najaf and was elected in the 2018 parliamentary vote under the Nasr coalition, led by ex-PM Haider al-Abadi. Zurfi once belonged to the Dawa party, an opposition force to Saddam Hussein who was ousted in the 2003 US-led invasion, and has spent years in the United States. The Iraqi-US dual national would have to renounce his American citizenship to take up the premiership.
Zurfi relates that he was forced to join the Ba'ath party in the 1980's in order to secure a place at university but was not an active party member. While still at university, he joined the Da'wa party. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison for joining an illegal organization and served several years before escaping from Abu Ghraib prison the night the US commenced Desert Storm in January 1991. He claimed that he joined the Shia uprising and then escaped to Saudi Arabia; from Saudi Arabia he came to the U.S. in 1994.
He spent five years in Chicago before settling in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. He noted that he visits the U.S. for about a month each year and that he has no plans to bring his family to Iraq because they would be "in prison" with limited freedom of movement. In his youth, Zurfi was an avid soccer player. Today he is an avid Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons basketball fan.
Zurfi, an American citizen who owed the first phase of his political career to his CPA appointment as Najaf Governor in 2004 and the second phase to an important intelligence position in the Ministry of Interior as a Maliki loyalist, is frank, direct, and systematic. He speaks fluent English and without any advisors present.
The 2005 transition from Adnan al-Zurfi's CPA-appointed administration to the ISCI-dominated provincial government led by former Governor Asaad Abu Gelal and Deputy Governor Abdul Hussein Abtan was bitter. Zurfi claimed that Asaad and Abtan not only fired all of his staff and appointees but assassinated and drove out many of his top political allies.
By 2006 the local government would rather Zurfi withdraw into obscurity. His tenacity in campaigning-even after consecutive defeats at the ballot box--ensures, however, that provincial elections will be contested. For Zurfi and his secular brethren to return to political influence, coalitions and compromise will be necessary. This is something that, to date, secular forces in Najaf had been unwilling or unable to do. When offered this suggestion, Zurfi indicated that he agrees that it is time for just such a relationship. There was, according to Zurfi, an active campaign to marginalize and eventually eliminate his political party Loyalty to An Najaf. The arrest of his security chief and office manager last fall, along with the abduction of his brother in December 2005, are clear indicators that the Provincial Government is leading a campaign to silence him and his popular party, according to Zurfi.
Governor Asaad Abu Gelal (ISCI) filed a legal complaint against the 2009 election of al Zurfi and has thus far refused to transfer power. Abu Gelal,s reluctance to step down quietly mirrors the situation in the 2005 provincial elections, when al Zurfi - the CPA-appointed Governor - lost out to Abu Gelal but refused to step down, citing voting irregularities. Asaad took all of the furniture from the governor's office and adjacent residence, as well as refused to return the armada of vehicles he acquired as governor. Zurfi added that Asaad kept up vitriolic rhetoric against him during the final days of the political negotiations, telling a thousand-person crowd of mourners at the funeral of a popular religious cleric that Zurfi was an American agent who would return Najaf to the political upheaval and violence of 2004.
Zurfi had a reputation as a hot-blooded government official and has a widely known hostile relationship with most of the ISCI leadership in Najaf. Zurfi also has tentative ties to the very Sadrists who aligned with him to put him in power. This meant that the new Governor walked a taught tightrope as he tries to make good on his promises to cooperate with all ends of the political spectrum and maintain security in Najaf.
By 2009 Governor Zurfi continues to capitalize on his strengths, relying on his background in security. To his credit, he led on the platform of security and rule of law. Zurfi was leaning forward looking to replace USG funded reconstruction with private sector growth.
Karim Alaiwi, a legislator from the Fatah (Conquest) alliance and a member of the Security and Defense Committee in the Iraqi legislature, told Arabic-language al-Maalomah news agency on 17 March 2020 that Zurfi had a difficult path ahead of himself as he wants to pick the ministers. Alaiwi emphasized that his political coalition and all allied factions will endorse the premier-designate provided that he ensures the exit of foreign troops, including American ones, from Iraq in the next government’s vision plan as demanded by parliamentary legislation passed earlier in the year.
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