Kadhimi receives vote of confidence of Iraqi parliament but bumpy road ahead

The reported support of Qaani and Kawtharani has reflected the high degree of Iranian encroachment in Iraq.
Thursday 07/05/2020
Mustafa al-Kahdimi, Iraqi Prime Minister-designate speaks to members of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, May 7. (AP)
Sixth PM. Mustafa al-Kahdimi, Iraqi Prime Minister-designate speaks to members of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, May 7. (AP)

BAGHDAD--Mustafa al-Kadhimi received the approval of parliament Thursday to serve as Iraq’s sixth prime minister after months of political wrangling and interference by Iran in the process.

Despite the approval of 15 ministers in his cabinet, twelve other portfolios, including oil and foreign affairs, are still to be voted. But based on provisions of the Iraqi constitution, Kadhimi can already assume the duties of the office.

New prime minister was able to clinch the support of Shia factions which had prevented two previous candidates for the office of PM from receiving needed approval.

Kadhimi, who was nominated  by President Barham Saleh on April 9, will replace premier Adel Abdel Mahdi as he tries to steer the ship of state in very turbulent waters.

“This government came as a response to the social, economic and political crises our country is facing” , Kadhimi told the parliamentary session. “It is a government that will provide solutions, not add to the crises” .

A former chief of Iraq’s National Intelligence Service (INIS) and former reporter and rights activist, 53-year-old Kadhimi is known for his wide ranging network of contacts with key factions in Iraq, including groups affiliated with Iran.

The new PM is said to have received the backing of Quds Force chief Ismail Qaani, and Mohammed Kawtharani, the influential representative of Lebanese movement Hezbollah in Iraq.

The reported support of Qaani and Kawtharani has however reflected the high degree of Iranian encroachment in Iraq and is expected to make the task of the new prime minister more complicated as he tries to strike a balance between US and Iranian pressures and shield his country from becoming a full-fledged battleground between Washington and Tehran.

Iran’s activities, conducted directly and through proxies, have led to increased tensions in Iraq, especially since the killing of the IRGC’s Quds force chief Qassem Suleimani last January.

“Kadhimi is a superb negotiator and an incredibly astute player”, said Toby Dodge, head of the London School for Economics’ Middle East Centre.

But “Iraq is on borrowed time — the stakes have gone up much higher”, he added.

The US was not absent on the day parliament voted in favour of the new PM. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Kadhimi to congratulate him on his official approval by parliament and announce a new US exemption for Iraq from US sanctions to continue importing Iranian electricity.  The waiver is “a display of our desire to help provide the right conditions for success,” said the State Department.

The US Secretary of State agreed with the Iraqi PM on “working together to provide the Iraqi people the prosperity and security they deserve,” added the State Department.

Kadhimi and Pompeo also discussed the next “US-Iraq strategic dialogue” scheduled for next June. The “dialogue” is likely to be contentious considering the vote by Iraqi parliament to oust all foreign military, including more than 5,000 American troops, from Iraq.

Washington is expected to raise the security situation in Iraq and spotlight the role played there by pro-Iran militias suspected of involvement in missile attacks against US bases.

For Baghdad, the challenge beyond the strategic dialogue will be how to make good on Kadhimi’s pledge to keep arms only in the hands of the state despite the very likely resistance of the many pro-Iran militias that are active all around Iraq.

The new prime minister also intends to hold early elections and to pass an emergency budget law that tables in Iraq’s dwindling oil revenue, which makes up about 90% of the country’s budget, and the prospect of a huge economic slowdown.

The World Bank has warned that Iraq’s GDP is likely to drop by 9.7% this year while poverty and unemployment rates could soar.

While he tackles the socio-economic woes, which along with corruption, have been at the core of Iraq’s street protests, the new prime minister will work to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

There have been till now more than 2,000 cases of COVID-19 and 100 related deaths.