Mustafa al-Kadhimi presents his government to parliament on May 7. (Iraqi Parliament)

Will Al-Kadhimi Save Iraq?

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, May 13

The winds blowing out of Baghdad suggest a spirit of change. For example, a giant mural of the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was removed from a wall at the airport, where he was assassinated. Similarly, Iraqi security forces last week raided the headquarters of the “Revenge of God” party in Basra, which is openly loyal to Iran and has been threatening Iraqi and American targets. These changes are owed to one individual: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq’s newly-appointed prime minister…. The majority of Iraqi parties, as well as regional powers, the United States and Russia, agree that Baghdad finally has a leadership that can be dealt with. And Kadhimi’s rise to power in Iraq coincides with the start of the countdown toward the American elections, whose results will decisively affect Iran and the region’s relations with it, including the Gulf. Kadhimi’s most difficult task is to save Iraq from Iran, which is seeking to take control over its neighbor, as well as push his country away from the perils of an American-Iranian conflict. Recent months haven’t been quiet in Iraq. After the Americans revealed Iran’s intention to wreak political havoc in Baghdad, they quickly assassinated Iran’s most prominent military leader, Soleimani. This was followed by an escalation of protests against the American military presence in Iraq. Shortly after Kadhimi was elected prime minister, the US government announced its agreement to allow Iraq, as an exception, to purchase oil from Iran to cover its energy needs. It is, in fact, an enticement for the Iranians to curb their activities in Iraq in exchange for oil dollars. Like his predecessors Haider al-Abadi and Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Prime Minister Kadhimi faces significant challenges: Iran has managed to infiltrate almost every corner of Iraq’s security, military and religious institutions. There are growing sectarian and religious rifts in the country. Corruption is widespread. And government deficits have multiplied with the collapse of oil prices. Kadhimi needs to quickly establish public confidence in his government and ensure that parliament cooperates with him to meet the demands of demonstrators on the streets. He must also establish quick control over militias and the military institutions. But what makes Kadhimi well poised to confront these challenges is that, unlike his predecessors, he rose to power without establishing clear enemies. His relations with all political stakeholders, including warring parties, are good. This will allow him to move forward over the next few months, leveraging his relationships to establish a political coalition that can help get Iraq out of the long impasse it has been confronting. The prospect of Iraq rehabilitating itself under the guidance of a new premier is exciting. It gives hope for the rest of the Middle East, which is experiencing unrest unlike anything it has witnessed for decades. Overcoming Iraq’s crisis will help the region itself to step out of its chaos. – Abd Al-Rahamn Al-Rashed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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