If the future of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi remains in limbo due to the disagreements among Shia blocs over who has the right to form the new government, that of President Barham Salih is much clearer with the virtual certainty that he will remain in office having received the backing of the two major Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
With Salih staying in office, Iraq sends a message of continuity at the helm of power in a troubled country.
But the position of prime minister remains once again hostage to internal feuds dividing Shia ranks as jockeying continues to form the new government.
رئيس مجلس الوزراء @MAKadhimi : أبارك للفائزين وأدعوهم للاستعداد للقيام بمهامهم بكامل طاقاتهم، وأن يتسم عملهم بالجدية، وحسن النية، وأبارك كذلك لجميع المشاركين في العملية الانتخابية. pic.twitter.com/OxPqOtFDid— المكتب الإعلامي لرئيس الوزراء 🇮🇶 (@IraqiPMO) October 14, 2021
According to Iraqi political rules built on custom, the office of president is reserved for the Kurds while the presidency of the parliament belongs to the Sunnis. Results have shown that Muhammad al-Halbousi is still the most likely candidate to be the next speaker of parliament.
Although his position as president does not grant him vast executive powers, Barham Salih’s personality, his ability to steer away far from partisan bickering and his comprehensive approach to national policy-making have allowed him to gain the confidence of Kurdish leaders while being perceived as Iraq’s national representative at the same time.
The distribution of the top three positions remains a contentious exercise, as the Sunnis would like to clinch the presidency while granting the presidency of the parliament to the Kurds. But coming to an agreement about an amendment towards this end does not seem to be plausible.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party refuses to relinquish the position of president and says that that the post preserves Iraq’s image as a multinational federal state.
A member of the party, Asaad Taha, insisted that “the position of president belongs to the Kurds and no other component can override this entitlement. Political custom in Iraq stipulates that the position of president of the republic goes to the Kurds, the position of speaker of parliament to the Sunnis, and that of prime minister to the Shia.”
Despite the close partnership forged between Salih and Kadhimi during the past eighteen months, a partnership that can still continue, Kadhimi’s fate hangs in the balance, with competition between the Sadrist movement, which may still support renewing the prime minister’s term and the factions headed by the leader of the Rule of Law coalition, Nuri al-Maliki and armed Shia groups.
Unless Muqtada al-Sadr moves forward to form an alliance that will win the required majority in parliament (165 seats) independently from other Shia parties, Maliki could form an alternate “larger bloc” that would quash Kadhimi’s hopes.
Power-sharing between the two competing “Shia” blocs may also kill the chances of the incumbent, given the violent criticism that Kadhimi faces from pro-Iranian factions, which openly accuse him of keeping close ties the United States at Iran’s expense.
Political analysts say that the volatile mood of the leader of the Sadrist movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, is the weakest point in Kadhimi’s bid to remain in office, especially since he was not traditionally associated with the Sadrist movement. Iraq experts believe Sadr chose to support him in April 2020 as a compromise after several attempts to choose an alternative to Adel Abdul-Mahdi failed after his government collapsed as result of the protests that swept the capital, Baghdad and cities in southern Iraq over a period of 19 months.
Although Kadhimi tried to appease everyone, he continued to be subjected to virulent criticism by armed groups loyal to Iran, which considered him a threat to their influence. They saw Kadhimi’s slogans of fighting corruption and defending the authority of the state and the rule of law as a challenge to them even though he did not confront them directly.
Sadr praised Kadhimi’s role in managing the elections and lauded their results, which he described as being to “the credit of Kadhimi’s policies”. However, Sadr, who likes to play the role of “king-maker”, could sacrifice Kadhimi and search for another figure that satisfies the other Shia parties, if he manages to reach an agreement with them.
Analysts say that Maliki could give up his ambition of holding the premiership if he decides to play a similar “king-maker” role, but he could also return to the fore of the political scene if he ends up forming a bloc larger than that led by Sadr.
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