Iraq names new prime minister, paving the way to tackle the deepening crisis
Iraq has been without a prime minister since November, when Adel Abdul-Mahdi resigned in the face of mass protests. The political odyssey it took to replace him underscored the depth of the divisions and vested interests that have come to shape Iraq’s political system.
When 53-year-old Mustafa al-Kadhimi addressed the parliament early Thursday, after a long night of negotiations culminated in the political blocs agreeing his ascension, he said that his government would “provide solutions, not add to the crises.”
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A former journalist, Kadhimi has a reputation for pragmatism and close ties to Iraq’s president, Barham Salih. His premiership also appears to have won the backing, or at least acceptance, of both Iran and the United States, powerful actors in a country that has repeatedly found itself center stage in their proxy fight.
But the challenges ahead are steep. Plunging oil prices have hastened a potential economic catastrophe, leaving the government unable to fund its provisional 2020 budget without reforms. Coronavirus is still stalking the country — although the contagion rate has appeared to be lower than expected, health experts say that the risk of a second wave is very real should Iraq’s lockdown be eased too quickly.
Meanwhile simmering tensions between Iran and the United States have repeatedly spilled over into hostilities on Iraqi soil, threatening to drag the country into open warfare and also harm the fight against what remains of the Islamic State group.
Kadhimi changed his list of proposed ministers at least three times in the week running up to the parliamentary vote as he sought to appease different political factions and get his candidacy over the line. As the bell sounded Thursday to signal the start of the parliamentary session, deals over the final cabinet lineup were still being struck.
According to Iraq’s constitution, a government can pass if over half of a proposed Cabinet is approved. In the final event, 15 of Kadhimi’s proposed ministers passed a parliamentary vote while five did not. The Oil and Foreign Affairs ministries were also left vacant, pending further negotiations.
Washington welcomed Kadhimi’s election Thursday, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the new prime minister shortly after the parliament accepted his nomination. “They discussed the urgent hard work ahead for the Iraqi government, implementing reforms, addressing COVID-19, and fighting corruption,” said Morgan Ortagus, a State Department spokesman, in a statement.
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