Long wait is over ... now Iraq’s PM has 30 days to form a govt

President Barham Salih, right, walks out of the Iraqi parliament with prime minister designate Adel Abdul Mahdi, second left, on Tuesday, October 2. (AFP)
Updated 04 October 2018

Long wait is over ... now Iraq’s PM has 30 days to form a govt

  • New President Barham Salih handed Abdul Mahdi the difficult responsibility only hours after being elected
  • Abdul Mahdi has just 30 days to navigate tangled Iraqi politics and form a government

BAGHDAD: Veteran Iraqi politician and now prime minister designate Adel Abdul Mahdi Wednesday began the tough task of forming the next government, seeking to overcome sharp differences and unite fractious political parties.
In a surprise move late Tuesday, new President Barham Salih handed Abdul Mahdi — seen as an independent — the difficult responsibility only hours after being elected.
It comes as several different blocs in the Iraqi parliament are jostling for power following the May elections — in-fighting which had so far stymied the formation of a new government.
The largest bloc traditionally appoints the prime minister and presides over the formation of the next government.
But the exact contours of a new governing coalition are yet to be drawn.
Outgoing prime minister Haider Al-Abadi threw in the towel last month after deadly unrest in the southern city of Basra cost his fragile alliance the support of populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr.
Sadr’s list won the largest share of seats in the May polls. And after dumping Abadi, it swung behind the pro-Iran bloc led by Hadi Al-Ameri’s Conquest Alliance — a coalition of anti-militant veterans close to Tehran.

A spokesman for Conquest Alliance, Ahmad Assadi, told reporters late Tuesday that “the largest coalition resolved the issue by naming the prime minister” hinting his bloc had supported Abdul Mahdi’s nomination, but without offering up any concrete evidence.
Iraq has a proportional system designed to prevent a slide back into dictatorship following the 2003 ouster of late dictator Saddam Hussein.
The largely ceremonial role of president, now taken by the 58-year-old Salih, has been reserved for the Kurds since Iraq’s first multi-party elections in 2005.
Under the power-sharing deal, the post of prime minister is held by a Shiite, while the speaker of parliament is Sunni Arab — a post filled last month by Mohammed Al-Halbusi.
The 76-year-old Abdul Mahdi, a former Iraqi vice president, has proven political credentials and is seen in Iraqi circles as an independent.
In a country long a political battleground between the US and Iran as they fight for influence, he is regarded as a rare figure of consensus.
An economist by training, he was once a senior member of a party close to Iran. But he has also won the backing of US and European leaders.
In 2014, Abdul Mahdi took up the post of oil minister under Abadi before resigning two years later.
Now he has just 30 days to navigate tangled Iraqi politics and form a government. If he fails, then another candidate will have to be chosen to pick up the baton.
A Shiite and native of Baghdad, he is nonetheless credited with having good relations with a number of Kurdish leaders. This could be crucial, coming a year after a disastrous referendum in which Iraqi Kurdistan voted overwhelmingly for independence.
The vote triggered a punishing backlash from Baghdad, which imposed economic penalties and sent federal troops to push Kurdish forces out of oil fields vital for the region’s economy.
Under a tacit accord between the region’s two main factions, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the PUK hold the federal presidency and the KDP the post of Iraqi Kurdistan president.
But the Iraqi Kurdish presidency has been left vacant since KDP leader Masoud Barzani’s mandate ended following the September 2017 referendum that he championed.
In a bitter dispute for power, Barzani had backed for president Fuad Hussein, his 72-year-old former chief of staff and veteran of the opposition to Saddam.
But in a blow to Barzani, the post went to Salih, a moderate who has served both as Iraqi deputy premier and Kurdish prime minister.
He was part of an interim authority put in place by the US following the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam.
He later became deputy prime minister under Nuri Al-Maliki then returned to the Kurdish regional capital Irbil in 2009 to become head of the Kurdistan government.
Meanwhile, results are also due late Wednesday after Sunday’s polls for the Kurdish parliament.

US bolsters Middle East force with 1,500 troops as Pentagon blames Iran for tanker attacks

Updated 24 May 2019

US bolsters Middle East force with 1,500 troops as Pentagon blames Iran for tanker attacks

  • Donald Trump says the additional troops would serve a 'mostly protective' role
  • The US began reinforcing its presence in the Arabian Gulf region earlier this month

WASHINGTON: The US will strengthen its force in the Middle East with 1,500 extra troops, Donald Trump said Friday as the Pentagon blamed Iran for an attack on oil tankers off the coast of the UAE.

"We want to have protection in the Middle East," Trump said as he left the White House for a trip to Japan. "We're going to be sending a relatively small number of troops, mostly protective.
"Some very talented people are going to the Middle East right now. And we'll see what happens."

Shortly after his comments, the Pentagon accused Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) of being directly responsible for attacks on tankers off the UAE earlier this month, describing it as part of a "campaign" by Tehran driving new US deployments.
"The attack against the shipping in Fujairah we attribute it to the IRGC," said Rear Admiral Michael Gilday, the director of the Joint Staff, adding the Pentagon attributed limpet mines used in the attack to the IRGC. He declined to describe "the means of delivery" of the mines.

The 1,500 extra troops will be made up of a deployment of 900 more forces, including engineers, and the extension of a tour by some 600 personnel manning Patriot missiles.

Officials said earlier that members of Congress were notified following a White House meeting Thursday to discuss Pentagon proposals to bolster the force in the region.
Earlier this week, officials said that Pentagon planners had outlined plans that could have sent up to 10,000 military reinforcements to the region. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan later said planners had not settled on a figure.
The US began reinforcing its presence in the Arabian Gulf region this month in response to what it said was a threat from Iran.

*With AP and Reuters