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Iraq Successfully Forms Government

On May 6, 2020, Mustafa al-Kadhimi was sworn in as Iraq's new prime minister. The move ends nearly five months of deadlock, during which time Iraq has lacked a head of government. Mr. Kadhimi, however, will start his term without a full cabinet, as his nominees for trade, justice, culture, agriculture and immigration secretaries were rejected by parliament.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi speaks to Parliament in Baghdad on May 7, 2020.

The international community was quick to welcome the announcement. The public display of peaceful continuity of government was a welcomed change for governments working with Baghdad after the months of seemingly endless disfunction. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to Kadhimi on the phone after the announcement, both congratulating him and, "discussing the urgent hard work ahead." Furthermore, Secretary Pompeo announced a 120-day waiver on sanctions to allow Iraq to buy electricity from Iran as, "a display of our desire to help provide the right conditions for success".

With COVID-19 threatening the nation, rampant government corruption, economic stagnation, low oil prices, sectarian conflict, an unexpected terror campaign by the Islamic State (IS), and a growing US-Iranian rivalry, the new administration in Baghdad has a lot to tackle.

Iraq had been without a functioning government since December 2019, when mass protests against government corruption rocked the nation and Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi resigned. Since then, sectarianism has disrupted the government's ability to function, with parliament divided between an Iranian faction on one side and Western faction on another.

Mustafa al-Khadhimi is certainly an interesting pick for prime minister, but perhaps one of the more effective choices given the political crisis. In 1985, he fled Saddam Hussain's rule, settling in the United Kingdom. Khadhimi holds a Bachelor of Arts in Law, and worked as editor of The Weekly, an Iraqi journal. In the aftermath of the Iraq War in 2003, he moved back to Iraq, notably becoming director of Iraq's intelligence service in 2016. Although he has stayed out of politics, he is reportedly a shrewd man, with contacts in both the Iranian and US camps.

Although Kataeb Hezbollah, a militia in the Popular Mobilisation Forces, accused him of complicity in the assassination of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani by US forces, Iran reportedly had a favorable view on his nomination. Being able to work with both the United States and Iran while retaining a degree of independence will be key to his success as a head of government in the coming months.


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