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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 October 2018

Iraq begins government formation to end months of deadlock

New President Barham Salih names Adel Abdul Mehdi as prime minsiter designate

Barham Salih, Iraq's newly elected President greets Iraq's outgoing President Fuad Masum (not pictured) at the end of a handover ceremony at Salam Palace in Baghdad, Iraq October 3, 2018. Reuters
Barham Salih, Iraq's newly elected President greets Iraq's outgoing President Fuad Masum (not pictured) at the end of a handover ceremony at Salam Palace in Baghdad, Iraq October 3, 2018. Reuters

After months of delay, Iraq's government took shape on Wednesday, as the newly elected President Barham Salih was sworn in and Prime Minister designate Adel Abdul Mahdi began the tough task of uniting fractious political parties

Developments in parliament unfolded on Tuesday night after Mr Salih – a moderate Kurd – was elected to the presidency, immediately naming independent Shiite politician and former vice president Mr Abdul Mahdi as his prime minister designate.

On Wednesday, Iraqi state TV broadcast a formal handover ceremony at the presidential palace in Baghdad's Green Zone, where Mr Salih was received by former President Fuad Masum and was saluted by an guard of honour.

In the second round vote, Mr Salih, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), won 220 votes out of the 273 lawmakers who attended Tuesday's session. Both politicians are longstanding members of the political class that has dominated Iraqi politics.

Politicians were supposed to vote on Monday, but delayed the session for nearly 24 hours after the two Kurdish parties were unable to agree on a candidate.

Kurdistan's two main parties have been unable to agree on a nomination for the president. They have been in a state of indecisiveness that has threatened their usually united front in regard to Baghdad.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party nominated Fuad Hussein, a chief of staff to former Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, who got 90 votes in the first round of parliament's vote.

The PUK named former Iraqi deputy prime minister Mr Salih, who got 165 votes in the first round, as their choice. The party asserted that the post should be held by one of its members.

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Read more:

A vision for ending Iraq’s crises by Barham Salih for The National

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But Mr Hussein withdrew moments before the announcement was made at the request of KDP leader Mr Barzani, a party official told The National.

Under an unofficial agreement dating back to the 2003 US-led invasion, Iraq's presidency, a largely ceremonial role, is held by a Kurd, while the prime minister is Shiite and the parliament speaker is Sunni.

Mr Salih was the preferred candidate of most lawmakers because of his softer stance on the issue of Kurdish independence. It comes just two days after parliamentary elections in the autonomous Kurdistan Region were held.

Mr Abdul Mahdi will now take over the government in Baghdad amid a wave of unrest over corruption and poor services.

He has 30 days to form a new cabinet, as is required by the Iraqi constitution.

The prime minister designate faces the hefty task of rebuilding much of the country after four years of war with ISIS and balancing foreign relations with Iraq's major allies – the United States and Iran. An attempt to heal ethnic and sectarian tensions will also be challenging for Mr Abdul Mahdi.

Since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the country has been used as a battleground between Iran and the US, who have vied for influence in the region.

Deadly protests have rocked southern Iraq since July over a lack of public services and unemployment, leaving some governmental offices and the Iranian consulate burned to the ground.

International reactions

The election of Mr Salih and nomination of Mr Abdul Mahdi was welcomed by regional and international leaders.

The UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash congratulated the new president on Twitter.

"I congratulate Dr Barham Salih on his election for Iraqi presidency and wish him success," Dr Gargash said.

The spokesman for outgoing Iraqi vice-president, Ayad Allawi, told The National that both politicians are capable of carrying out the rigorous task of rebuilding the country.

"They are well intended and respectable individuals with ample political experience. We wholeheartedly support them and are confident they will do their upmost in solving Iraq's deep rooted issues," the spokesman said.

For Washington, the election of Mr Salih is another important step in the constitutional process to form a new government.

"We commend Dr Salih for his independence, patriotism and commitment to serving all people of Iraq," the US Embassy in Baghdad said in a statement.

In response to Mr Abdul Mahdi's selection, the US said it supports Iraq's calls for reform and effective governance.

"The US has worked with Dr Abdul Mahdi in his previous role in government and we look forward to further strengthening the relations between Iraq and the United States," the embassy said.

The British Ambassador to Iraq, Jon Wilks, wished Mr Abdul Mahdi "success in quickly forming an inclusive and effective government that can address the needs of the Iraqi people".

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