When Will Iraq's Abdul Mahdi Get a Fully-Fledged Government?

Published November 4th, 2018 - 02:26 GMT
Adel Abdul Mahdi (AFP)
Adel Abdul Mahdi (AFP)

By Marwan Asmar

Politics Iraqi style! Well, the new Iraqi government is in place. Ministers have been given a vote of confidence by parliament and Premier Adel Abdul Mahdi has already started to implement the government agenda to rule a country that has been beset by ISIS, and reeling corruption amongst many other things that need fixing.

One snag however. The Iraqi government is half-baked. The Iraqi assembly only backed 14 ministers out of 22 and then many MPs walked out of the vote of confidence session leaving it inquorate as parliamentary business coming to a standstill.

But no matter, the Prime Minister claimed a victory and went on to say the magic number that included Foreign, Oil, Housing, Trade, Agriculture, Youth and Health Ministries had been achieved to form a workable, functional government. However, there is no agreement as yet on crucial ministries like defense, interior, justice, planning, education, culture and immigration with the posts still vacant to be filled by winner takes all, as it were.

The constitutionality of the claim by the Prime Minister must surely therefore, be questioned. To say the least, it is debatable and raises many issues like seeking to run Iraq with half-a-government or with an executive whose hands is tied behind its back. After all, eight vacant ministries are a big deal. In a way however, it reflects the “uniqueness” of Iraqi politics in the post-Saddam era after 2003, as the current speaker of parliament Mohammad Al Halbousi has put 6 November date as the new date to complete the set and vote on the eight other ministers to make it a “complete” government.

Off course if that doesn’t happen, then Abdul Mahdi will have to go into more “back room” deals and seek the support of other factions in parliament to produce a workable government, passing a little the 30-day constitutional mandate that he has been given on 2 October to form a cabinet.

Depending on how one looks at it, this should be seen of major worry and big hurdle for Abdul Mahdi. If he is not able to form a government with the 30-day-period put forward, parliament may exercise its right, at least in theory, to appoint a new premier designate but they will not do that especially since they agreed on his appointment in the first place when his name was put forward by new Iraqi Kurdish president Braham Saleh as per the Iraqi political system with a Shiite appointed as a premier and a Sunni speaker of parliament. 

But its early days yet to be worried, especially since the Prime Minister has been officially sworn in and the government is already in place and has started implementing its agenda.

So in a way, the 6 November date is theoretical of more backroom dealing, perhaps arms-twisting in-between arguing about policy and how to run the country beset by major problems and ongoing strikes which have gone on in Basra all summer.

This is not to forget as well, Abdul Mahdi is above “party-politics”. He is an independent, thought to get on with everybody and maybe that’s why he was chosen as Prime Minister-designate early October. For Mahdi went through most political ideologies in his career dabbling with political Islam, Baathism and with the Iraqi Communist Party.

However, in the interest of building a consensus, for after all he was appointed as prime minister for his ability to bring people together as an old experienced and trusted hand in Iraqi politics, Abdul Mahdi is likely to choose the coming days very carefully to bring back the numerous people who walked out of the confidence session that included MPs from the Sieroon Movement which received the highest number of seats in the last May parliamentary poll at 54, deputies in the list of outgoing prime minister Haider Al Abadi, ex-premier Ayad Alawi as well as Sunni factions.

They are likely to get back in line after much talk and persuasion and maybe offered something they can’t refuse. So much for the concept of “technocratic” government. At the beginning of his designation Abdul Mahdi who is an economist and previously served as vice-president from 2005 and 2011 and then as oil minister between 2014 and 2016, was thinking of forming a government of technocrats. He even appealed to the outside public to register their names with their CVs on the government website if they feel they could become ministers. Although a massive 15,000 registered in just two days, this was seen as a public relations exercise with the number brought down to 600 with further filtering promised. But nobody knows what is going to happen next! 

On a general level, it shows Iraqis are desperate for good governance whose grip is being held by political parties and factions inside parliament. It is they who are the real brokers of any government deal as the new Iraqi Prime Minister is realizing only too well with any talk of a technocratic government based on their terms and membership that tend to be mixed with political ideologies and way of doing things.

Take for example the Fatah Alliance of Hadi Al Amiri, they got the second highest number of seats at 48 in the May parliamentary poll, they are Shiite and pro-Iran but don’t see eye-to-eye with Sireoon’s Muqtada Al Sadr, who although Shiite adopt an anti-Tehran line, don’t want to be a part of the present cabinet but want a “technocratic” government at the same time with the implication being his bloc want the executive to be filled qualified ministers.

Thus the 6 November date awaits. Indeed, according to the nature of Iraqi politics and what was seen from the last 15 years the deadlock can continue for an indefinite period.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.

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