Iraqi PM Kadhimi off to good start as he tackles government mismanagement

Kadhimi’s efforts to effect change in state institutions is drawing widespread support from a population long frustrated with perceived government corruption and incompetence.
Tuesday 12/05/2020
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi chairs the ministerial meeting of the new Iraqi cabinet in Baghdad, May 9. (AFP)
Hands-on approach. Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi chairs the ministerial meeting of the new Iraqi cabinet in Baghdad, May 9. (AFP)

LONDON –The new government of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi is seeking to build on popular support by taking aim at state corruption and mismanagement.

On May 10, a broadcast put out by the premier’s information service showed Kadhimi visiting the Public Pensions Department in central Baghdad, where thousands of elderly, disabled and sick patients congregate daily to wait for their delayed transactions.

The new PM was seen interacting with dozens of elders and pledging to put an end to unnecessary bureaucratic delays that are complicating their finances. As soon as Kadhimi left the Public Pensions Department, thousands of retirees began receiving their salaries, due to an urgent intervention from the Finance Ministry.

Former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi put Kadhimi’s government in a bind by ordering the suspension of retirees’ salaries due to lack of liquidity before leaving office. However, Kadhimi was able to resolve the problem within hours by utilising banking transfers carried out by incoming Finance Minister Ali Abdul-Amir Allawi.

Some saw Abdul-Mahdi’s move as an effort to put Kadhimi’s cabinet in an early stalemate, but the latter was able to turn the tables by quickly taking charge of the situation. 

Kadhimi’s cabinet has taken further steps to make critical changes within state institutions.

Interior Minister Othman Al-Ghanimi held a meeting this week with members of his ministry, including officers and administrators, to warn that “anyone involved in buying or selling a security position” would be harshly rebuked.

The head of the Security and Defence Committee in Iraq’s parliament, Muhammad Reza Al-Haider, previously said that Abdul-Mahdi had promoted incompetent officers to sensitive positions because of their political relations.

Kadhimi’s efforts to effect change in state institutions is drawing widespread support from a population long frustrated with perceived government corruption and incompetence. 

However, Haider warned that Kadhimi’s political rivals “will work hard to impede the efforts of the new government” and suggested that demonstrations that took place across several Iraqi cities in recent days “may have been politically breached.”

The full formation of Iraq’s cabinet is expected to empower the new PM, who has already begun negotiations to fill seven vacant positions in 22 ministries.

Deputy Parliament Speaker Bashir Haddad said earlier that Kadhimi will put forward candidates for seven ministerial portfolios before the Eid al-Fitr holiday. This indicates that Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi will call the House of Representatives to convene as soon as the list of names is presented. The vacant positions in Kadhimi’s government include the oil, foreign affairs, agriculture, trade, culture, immigration and justice portfolios.

Following negotiations, the oil portfolio will go to a Shia figure from the city of Basra, while the foreign and justice ministries to Kurdish figures. Debate is ongoing over whether other ministries will be led by Sunni or Shia figures.

 On May 12, Kadhimi tasked five members of his cabinet with managing vacant portfolios until new ministers are officially appointed.  According to ministerial orders published by local media, Transport Minister Nasir Hussein Bander Hamad was tasked with carrying out the functions of the Ministry of Displacement and Migration. Health Minister Hassan Mohammed Abbas Salman will temporarily manage the Ministry of Oil and Higher Education and Science Minister Nabil Khadim Abdul Sahib will temporarily oversee the Ministry of Justice. 

The same ministerial orders allow for Minister of Youth and Sports Adnan Dirjal to carry out the functions of the Ministry of Culture while Education Minister Ali Hameed Mukhlif will take over the Ministry of Trade. Kadhimi will oversee the Foreign Ministry.

Deputy Parliament Speaker Bashir Haddad previously said that “the tasks of the new government at this stage are to draft a new budget law for 2020, release the salaries of retirees, improve living conditions… control the security situation, restore prestige to the state, security forces, and the police, bring those involved in killing protesters to justice as well as take legal action against those accused of corruption crimes.”

Kadhimi received a boost in morale on May 11 with praise by Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr on his performance. Sadr said he believed Kadhimi to be “a serious person in his business who loves his country.”

Sadr, who has the largest number of deputies, has given the new government 100 days to implement its promised reforms.