On April 9, Iraqi President Barham Saleh officially instructed Mustafa al-Kadhimi to form a government within 30 days. This is the third politician to be tasked with forming a government in Iraq in 2020, after Adel Abdel Mahdi resigned in November 2019.
The Third Prime Minister
After months of anti-Government rhetoric and domestic political crisis, on February 1, Saleh approved the candidacy of former communications minister Mohammed Tawfik Allawi. The candidate was proposed by the Shia faction of parliamentarians. On March 1, the Prime Minister’s appointee withdrew his candidacy after members of parliament were unable to hold a vote of confidence in his government twice without a quorum. On March 17, Saleh ordered the ex-governor of Najaf Adnan al-Zurfi to the Cabinet. Shiite factions opposed al-Zurfi arguing he was a pro-American candidate.
I am honored and privileged to be tasked with forming Iraq’s next government. I will work tirelessly to present Iraqis with a program and cabinet that will work to serve them, protect their rights and take Iraq towards a prosperous future.
— Mustafa Al-Qadimi مصطفى الكاظمي (@MAKadhimii) April 9, 2020
Commander Ismail Qaani of Iran’s Quds Force visited Iraq last week. His visit was an attempt to bring Shia forces together to nominate a new Prime Minister. However, as reported by the news agency Shafaaq, he was unable to meet with all Shiite leaders as the Office of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani rejected Qaani ‘s request for a meeting. Influential Shiite politician Muqtada al-Sadr also did not meet with the Iranian representative.
Nevertheless, representatives of the Shiite political forces of Iraq nominated Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the current head of the Counterintelligence Office, as a candidate for the post of Prime Minister. He was supported by the Kurdish and Sunni blocs in Parliament. In theory, he is now in a position to form a Government.
Ties to the US, Britain
The counterintelligence apparatus of Iraq is a rather controversial structure, created from scratch during the American occupation administration; all of its personnel were trained by American specialists. Previously, representatives of Shiite political forces in Iraq voiced claims against Mustafa al-Kadhimi, suggesting the possible complicity of Iraqi intelligence in the murder of Qasem Soleimani.
In March, the Shia militia group Kataeb Hezbollah accused him of being involved in the assassination and threatened leadership of the country with “people’s war”, if he was designated as the new Prome-Minister (https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iraqs-hezbollah-warn-war-if-president-appoints-intelligence-chief-new-pm). However, the pro-Iranian Fatah alliance supported him in the parliament.
Mustafa al-Kadhimi himself is an interesting figure. He is a former journalist who fought against Saddam Hussein and lived in exile in Iran, Germany, the US and the UK. In 2016, he was appointed head of Iraqi intelligence.
Although his real name is Mustafa Abdul Latif, he often goes by the nickname Al-Qazimi. He is closely associated with other members of the country’s current elite, being married to the daughter of Mahdi al-Allaq, a leader in the “Dawa” party led by former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. One of his brothers also worked as an advisor for another Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
During his stay in London, he managed the “Humanitarian Dialogue Foundation” for its founder, Ayatollah Sayyid Hussein Ismael Al-Sadr, a representative of the prominent Sadr family. The “Humanitarian Dialogue Foundation” is registered in London.
He also worked as the director of the Iraq Memory Foundation between 2003 and 2010 to expose the political repression of Saddam Hussein. The project was funded by the US government, and was established a few months before the American-led invasion of Iraq.
Mustafa al-Kadhimi also worked as a columnist for Al-Monitor, the US based outlet run by Arab American entrepreneur Jamal Daniel. In his articles he called for balancing between the US and Russia (opposing excessive rapprochement with Moscow) and solid partnership with the US. He also called for positive relations with Saudi Arabia.
It is important to note that he has not criticized Turkey very heavily, and as a director of Iraqi intelligence, he knows very well Ankara’s concerns about Kurdish terrorists in Northern Iraq.
His book “Humanitarian Concerns” was designated the best book by a political refugee by the EU in 2000.
The End of the balancing act
Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi welcomed his designation as prime minister.
Mustafa al-Kadhimi positions himself as an independent politician with no connection to any party in terms of foreign centers of influence. However, as is the case for the majority of the modern Iraqi elite, he has close ties with Western countries, primarily the US and Britain.
At the same time, as the head of intelligence, he had to deal closely with both Americans and Iranians. It is unlikely that this politician will give up efforts at striking a balance between the US and Iran or decide to actively confront the Americans.
This means that Iran will continue to be an arena for American-Iranian confrontation under the new prime minister. The indecision of the country’s leadership, which has been unable to kick American troops out despite the fact that the Iraqi parliament voted for their withdrawal, is unlikely to be replaced by a decisive anti-imperialist policy.
Before Mustafa al-Kadhimi had even had time to instruct him to form a government, the capital said they would not accept the new prime minister, as he does not represent the interests of the Iraqi people.
After the entirety of Shiite political parties agreed on nominating @MAKadhimi to form next Iraqi Gov’t & President Barham Salih assigned him officially today, protesters once again marched in Tahrir Square earlier today refusing Kadhimi & stepping on his poster.#IraqProtests pic.twitter.com/eYdhZFua4Y
— Lawk Ghafuri (@LawkGhafuri) April 9, 2020
This is due to the fact that the politician has close family ties to the Iraqi elite who have been seriously discredited as a result of corruption and ineffective policies. All of this makes Mustafa al-Kadhimi a shaky figure: it is easy to imagine the people rising up against his leadership.
Other factors are also working against the new Prime Minister, including the need to deal with the coronavirus epidemic and problems in the global oil market.
The third attempt to appoint a Prime Minister of Iraq shows that the traditional Iraqi policy of balancing between Iran and the US has been exhausted: this strategy has only resulted in instability. Sovereign Iraq must take its rightful place among the anti-imperialist powers, which requires a reassessment of the geopolitical strategy of the ruling elite.
Ali Alsalmi, Head of the Iraqi Youth Union told UWI what he expect from the new Prime Minister:
“The political process in Iraq is in a period of serious instability. The Iraqi parliament has refused to pass a vote of confidence for three different prime ministers appointed by President of Republic Barham Salih over the past three months.
The main problem facing Iraq today is that all the political forces of the country remain sharply divided. The Shia parties are strongly divided, each with their own supporters and opponents, not to mention the Sunni and Kurdish parties.
Mustafa Al-Kazemi has a chance to form a new government because of the ongoing violent crisis the country is facing… However, there is another important contradiction he needs to take note of. He will undoubtedly fail if he is unable to find a compromise between the various divided parties of the country. Unfortunately, most of these groups are only interested in protecting themselves, achieving power and holding government positions.
There are many problems that Mr. Al-Kazemi must find a solution to in order to form a new government. He must also consider the demands of the demonstrators taking to the streets to demand an independent government with no connections to the current status quo.
In a recent speech, Al-Kazemi declared that the country’s sovereignty is a red line. He admitted that he would not be able to change things on his own, and called for broad collaboration. We will soon see if he will be able to convince these divided parties”.