Scenarios facing Iraq in new govt formation

Newly designated Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi (center) walks out of parliament in Baghdad last week. — AFP

By Michael Flanagan

LAST week, political parties and other stakeholders in Iraq decided on a consensus candidate for prime minister. He was asked by the new president to form a government and has 30 days to form a government consisting of his Cabinet of ministers. This government will be formally voted into office by the Iraqi Parliament after the 30-day time limit has elapsed.

Adel Abdul Mahdi will be the new prime minister. He is an interesting choice. First, he is the consensus choice. Not deeply loved by any party in particular but acceptable to all (with small reservation from the Kurds which almost certainly be worked out).

Moqtada Al-Sadr supports this choice for now and his Saeroon Alliance does as well. The Saeroon Alliance is a combination of Sadrists and the communists which Al-Sadr formed for the national elections earlier this year.

Briefly, Abdul Mahdi is Western educated (France) as an economist and is currently a member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council Party (SIIC). SIIC has close ties with Iran. He is also a former member of the Iraqi Communist Party. He has long ties with party politics in Iraq and has been oil minister, interim finance minister and, most recently, vice president of the Iraq republic. His name has been floated several times in the past for prime minister and has been active at the highest levels of Iraqi politics for decades.

In forming the new government, Abdul Mahdi has endorsed some important changes in the selection of ministers for the Cabinet.

Formerly, ministers were chosen by the parties using a points system. The number of members a party had in parliament represented the point total which that party possessed. The party would expend those points in “buying” a ministry or even the PM position. Once expended, the points were not recycled so the top jobs like finance minister and oil minister went for high point totals making sure that those ministries went to the biggest parties. Once expended, other ministries became available for smaller point totals and smaller parties.

Now, Abdul Mahdi has abolished this system and has announced his desire to have technocrats as ministers — not party loyalists. He has even opened a website to encourage ordinary Iraqis to apply for the ministerial jobs — non-political non-party Iraqis who have skills but no connections or loyalties. In this, Abdul Mahdi hopes to work against the official corruption that has plagued Iraq and to create a more efficient government without divided loyalties in the ministries. Al-Sadr has blessed this new system and it is very popular among the Iraqi people.

Will they go quietly?

Many believe that the parties will not go quietly and will bring extreme pressure to have their candidates selected by Abdul Mahdi as the “neutral technocrats” he is seeking. It is going to be quite a fight and most expect that Abdul Mahdi will not have a government to present in the 30-day time frame. After that, it is up to the Iraqi Parliament whether they will wait or move on to a new candidate to form a government.

It is fervently hoped that Abdul Mahdi will signal an end to official corruption in Iraq.

Others believe that Abdul Mahdi is being set-up for failure by Al-Sadr’s Saeroon Alliance which will frustrate his efforts at reform and then swoop in a year or so and “save” the Iraq republic from “incompetence” with a candidate of their own — as corrupt as ever. In this way, Al-Sadr can appear to be pro-reform and get the power base that the election was supposed to bring.

This later scenario is in keeping with the fast and loose way Al-Sadr has behaved at every step of this process. He has always proven to be clever, duplicitous and full of promises and statements quickly forgotten.

What would be best is that Abdul Mahdi is unbelievably successful and the people cleave to him as the solution for anti-corruption. Al-Sadr would still reap the benefits of supporting this premier but will be denied the corrupt power and wealth he seeks. I will be up to the Iraqi people to support and reward the anti-corruption initiatives and general behavior of the new government.

I hope that they will, and bolstered by that support, Abdul Mahdi will be able to stave off the future moves against him and be a successful corruption fighter for Iraq. — Al Arabiya English