Iraqi prime minister forms cabinet but key posts unfilled

The objections to the rejected eight candidates were over allegations they were corrupt or supported former President Saddam Hussein.
Sunday 28/10/2018
Challenging task. Iraq’s Prime Minister-designate Adel Abdul-Mahdi speaks to parliament as he announces his new cabinet, on October 24. (Reuters)
Challenging task. Iraq’s Prime Minister-designate Adel Abdul-Mahdi speaks to parliament as he announces his new cabinet, on October 24. (Reuters)

LONDON - Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi secured parliament’s approval for 14 ministers in the 22-member cabinet he proposed but he is likely to face hurdles in filling the remaining posts.

Abdul-Mahdi needed parliament’s approval for 12 ministers to formally form a government but political disputes over eight remaining ministerial posts will pose a challenge, especially regarding the key interior, justices and defence ministries.

The prime minister has been under pressure from the country’s biggest rival blocs: Islah (Reform), led by influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr; and Binaa (Building), led by Iran-backed militiaman Hadi al-Amiri.

Both al-Sadr and Amiri agreed on nominating Abdul-Mahdi as a consensus candidate and, although he promised to field independent technocrats for the cabinet posts, he appears to have given in to political pressure and appointed members of the rival blocs.

Abdul-Mahdi came under criticism for not selecting one person from the 15,000 online applicants he said he would consider and picked familiar political faces instead.

The objections to the rejected eight candidates were over allegations they were corrupt or supported the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. However, observers said the charges were mainly politically motivated.

“Abdul-Mahdi came under tremendous pressure from party leaders… He submitted to the moods of parties by nominating partisan ministers,” Huda Sajjad, a member of outgoing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s Victory list, told Reuters.

Abdul-Mahdi named Fuad Hussein finance minister. Hussein was a candidate for Iraq’s presidency, supported by Masoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). He lost that race to Barham Salih from the rival Kurdish party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

Observers said because the PUK secured the presidency, it was expected that the KDP, which has more lawmakers, would be awarded a key post, such as finance minister.

On Twitter, al-Sadr called on members of parliament not to vote for candidates thought to be partisan or sectarian. It was understood to be a reference to, among others, Faleh al-Fayad, a pro-Iran militia commander, named interior minister.

On August 30, Abadi dismissed Fayad as leader of the Popular Mobilisation Forces and head of the National Security Council because his involvement in politics breaches the Iraqi Constitution, which calls for the political “neutrality of the security and intelligence services.”

Iraq’s Administrative Court on October 15 froze Abadi’s order, citing fears of leaving a security gap before his responsibilities could be transferred to a new leader.

Fayad’s supporters said that he should be rewarded with the post of interior minister.

“Rejecting Faleh al-Fayad as interior minister was not justified. He led the Popular Mobilisation Forces in defeating Daesh (the Islamic State) and this is the least reward he should get,” an MP affiliated with the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia told Reuters. “In return we objected to [al-Sadr’s] candidates.”

Abdul-Mahdi will likely face challenges in maintaining a balance with the United States and Iran, especially as Washington’s sanctions against Tehran take effect on November 4.

The United States welcomed both the nomination of Abdul-Mahdi as prime minister and his formation of government but the new Iraqi leader may not be willing to accommodate Washington fully when it comes to Iran.

“Iraq is not part of the sanctions system… We want to secure Iraq from any interference in issues, affairs of other countries, whether it’s a neighbouring country or it’s any other country in the world,” Abdul-Mahdi said.

In a move signalling an attempt to move the government away from the fortified Green Zone and closer to the people, Abdul-Mahdi had his first news conference in a rehabilitated government compound near the Baghdad city centre.

“All of Iraq should be a Green Zone. Security and beauty should be everywhere in Iraq. Officials must share everything with citizens, the good and the bad. We should share everything with our people,” said Abdul-Mahdi.

Providing security and basic services, along with fighting corruption, is among the main demands of Iraqis generally and more specifically protesters who have rocked the city of Basra since July.

8