Iraq’s Zurfi quits, clearing way for Kadhimi to form new government
In yet another twist in Iraq’s political drama, Adnan al-Zurfi has stepped down as prime minister-designate, clearing the way for Mustafa al-Kadhimi to form a new cabinet.
Iraq has not had a fully functioning government since December last year, when mass protests forced then-PM Adil Abdul-Mahdi to resign after just a year in office.
Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi was initially tasked with forming a new government, but was forced to quit when lawmakers rebelled against his choice of independent ministers.
Zurfi didn’t even get that far, it seems, elbowed aside by parliament’s powerful Shiite blocs and their preferred candidate Kadhimi.
With no mandate to draft a budget, and now wrestling with the twin threats of coronavirus and falling world oil prices, Abdul-Mahdi has continued to soldier on as caretaker prime minister.
Zurfi, who previously served as governor of Najaf before leading the Nasr bloc in the Iraqi parliament, was appointed by President Barham Salih to form a new cabinet on March 17.
US officials had welcomed Zurfi’s appointment, while several pro-Iran factions in Baghdad outright rejected him.
Zurfi held a press conference on Thursday morning announcing his withdrawal.
“In the past weeks, I established a real beginning for an Iraqi policy based on productive and fruitful economic partnerships with countries around the world, organizing the work of the international coalition forces, scheduling their withdrawal, and building the capabilities of the armed forces,” Zurfi said.
“I apologize and withdraw in forming the next cabinet in order to preserve the unity and supreme interests of Iraq.”
Zurfi had until April 16 to form a new cabinet, but it quickly became clear he would have no mandate to lead.
Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani and the Sunni Coalition of Iraqi Forces (al-Qiwa) added their voices to the Shiite opposition to Zurfi’s candidacy, making his position untenable.
The main Shiite voices opposing Zurfi were the Fatih coalition, led by former militia commander Hadi al-Amiri, and the State of Law coalition, headed by former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.
With Zurfi gone, the baton has now been passed to Mustafa al-Kadhimi – the serving head of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS).
At the same moment Zurfi stepped down, officials gathered at the presidential palace in Baghdad for a special ceremony to assign Kadhimi the job.
Fatih chief Hadi al-Amiri attended the ceremony, as did former prime minister Haider al-Abadi, and the United Nations special representative to Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert.
With a consensus apparently emerging among Iraq’s entrenched political elite, a Kadhimi-led government is now a strong possibility, dragging Baghdad out of the political mire.
With my mandate to lead the Iraqi government, I pledge before my honorable people, to work to form a government that radiates the aspirations and demands of the Iraqis at the top of its priorities, safeguards the sovereignty of the country, preserves rights, #العراق_اولا
For Iraq’s young protesters, who have died in their hundreds since taking to the streets in October to resist the post-2003 order, Kadhimi is unlikely to offer the change they were hoping for.
Commentators, meanwhile, are optimistic he is the man for the job.
“Kadhimi is a thoughtful, calculating Iraqi nationalist, more than capable of balancing the realities of Iran’s influence as a neighbor against the strategic interests of Iraq,” Michael Knights, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, tweeted on Thursday.
“This is exactly what he has done at INIS since 2016 – working within the margins, but on Iraq’s side.”
Born in Baghdad in 1967, Kadhimi studied law before he was forced into exile to Britain and the US. From 2003 to 2010 he managed Kanan Makiya’s Iraq Memory Foundation, documenting the crimes of the Baathist regime.
Kadhimi is also an accomplished author. His book ‘Humanitarian Concerns’ was selected in 2000 by the European Union as the best book written by a political refugee. He is also the former editor of Iraq Pulse for Al-Monitor. Source