Iraq has made further strides in its efforts to get its political process back up and running. There was a major breakthrough on 2 October when the parliament elected Barham Saleh as the country’s new president, which in turn opened up the way for the selection of a new prime minister and a new government, part of which was approved by the parliament in the early hours of 25 October.
This smooth and unexpectedly swift resolution to the crisis that has paralysed the political arena since the May 2018 elections could not have been more welcome and will enable Iraq to restart its political engine. However, it is not quite the fresh start that many Iraqis had been hoping for.
Within just two hours of being appointed, Saleh entrusted Adel Abdul-Mahdi with forming the next government.
This was a surprise move. Abdul-Mahdi’s name had been touted as a possible prime minister in September, but he had been more-or-less ruled out of the running. Abdul-Mahdi has a long history of senior political office, having been finance minister, oil minister and deputy president over the past years.
Even more surprising was the way in which Saleh appointed him. According to the Iraqi constitution, the president must entrust the head of the largest bloc in the parliament with forming the government but this rule was completely flouted. Not only is Abdul-Mahdi not the head of any bloc, he is not even the member of one and he wasn’t elected as a MP either.
In addition, none of the blocs had reached the required threshold of 166 seats to be able to claim to be the largest. Despite the marathon of fraught negotiations that has continued since May, the big Shi’a blocs have proved incapable of pulling together. This goes some way to explain why — despite no-one knowing quite how Abdul-Mahdi was the one tasked with forming the government — there were few objections to his being chosen. With no real prospect of any breakthrough in the offing, the main blocs clearly determined that the only way to break the deadlock would be to accept a compromise candidate for prime minister.
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