Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s Heat Level: A hot Prime Minister-designate nomination

  • + Al-Kadhimi is nominated as the 3rd candidate for Iraq’s PM position.
  • + Iraq’s power vacuum exacerbates the ongoing economic crisis.
  • + Al-Kadhimi represents everything protesters have fought against.
Source: The Soufan Center; The Media Office of the Prime Minister of Iraq.

Why is al-Kadhimi’s level hot?

Answer: He has been nominated as the Iraqi Prime Minister-Designate.

On April 9th of 2020, the Iraqi head of intelligence, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, was nominated as the third suggested Prime Minister in 10 weeks, after previous candidate, Adnan al-Zurfi, resigned from his post. This political vacuum has been making headlines in Iraq since Adil Abdul Mahdi resigned from the Prime Ministerial post on the 1st of December 2019 due to the nation-wide protests that originated months earlier.  

On October 1st of 2019, what seemed like a second Arab Spring arose in Baghdad as demonstrators took to the streets to protest against the lack of basic commodities, job opportunities and public services despite the huge revenues the country obtains from oil exports. As the protests were met with violence from police forces, the movement spread to other Iraqi cities such as Basra, Maysan and Karbala. A few weeks into the demonstrations, the people’s pleas developed from a demand of basic goods and services to the complete dismantling of the Iraqi political system. They craved accountability for the high corruption levels that placed Iraq as the 12th most fraudulent country in the world during 2018, and demanded new electoral laws to demolish the sectarian-based power-sharing system. This system, stipulated by the 2003 constitution, requires the Prime Minister to be Shia while the speaker of parliament must be Sunni and the president must be a Kurd. This power-division arrangement has been ruling the country even though more than 60% of the population is Shia. Protesters believe that this system splits the country’s resources and decreases the effectiveness of governance. Similarly, as Iran got involved in opposing the riots and supporting the Iranian-backed government in Iraq, protesters also claimed that the halt of external influence in the country is needed.

Throughout several months, the world watched as more than 600 demonstrators were brutally killed by security forces; the Ministry of Communications disconnected the Internet to prevent the organization of further protests through social media platforms, and the Presidential Guard conducted armed raids on residential neighbourhoods. As the movement became the greatest uprising since Hussein’s fall, Mahdi and his president -Bahram Salih- were forced to resign but currently maintain caretaker posts until a new government is formed by a Prime Minister-designate. 

Al-Kadhimi was not the first candidate to be given this responsibility as he did not please all of the numerous influential groups of the Iraqi government. Mohammed Allawi, a former member of Parliament and Minister of Communication, was the first to attempt- and fail- to form a Cabinet. As Allawi resigned on March 1st of 2020, the former Najaf governor, Adnan al-Zurfi took his place. Nonetheless, his candidacy did not last long due to the strong antagonism he faced from Iranian-backed parties, who accused him of dangerously close ties with the United States. As Iraqi political elites witnessed the failure of these two candidates, the nomination of al-Kadhimi became a hot topic once again, and as of April 9th, he has 30 days to successfully form a Cabinet.

What is changing al-Kadhimi’s temperature?

Answer: His relations with the US and Iran.

At first, al-Kadhimi’s nomination was vetoed by Shia groups such as the Fatah Alliance, the Khazali Network, and the al-Nujaba Brigades. But with Iraq at the brink of default due to threats such as external sanctions, stagnating oil prices, the COVID-19 pandemic and a previously crumbling economy, the nomination of al-Kadhimi was reconsidered, and even praised, by most Iraqi influence groups. In fact, since he does not belong to any political party and has little governing experience, one of his greatest strengths is considered to be the ability to walk the fine line between Washington and Tehran. 

After he fled Iraq in 1985, Mr. Al-Kadhimi developed close ties with the United States. He found exile in the UK, where he obtained the British citizenship and became a critic of Hussein’s regime as a journalist during the 90s. He also spent a lot of time in the US, was a great supporter of the 2003 invasion and had a close connection with Hadi al-Abadi, the US-backed Iraqi Prime Minister between 2014 and 2018. 

Similarly, his experience as the Head of Iraqi Intelligence since 2016 has given him the opportunity to have somewhat close ties with Iran, Shia leaders and numerous Arab countries. A great symbol of support by these groups was witnessed during his ceremony of nomination, which was attended by several top officials including Esmail Qaani, the new head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and had the strong endorsement by the Fatah Alliance. This depicts higher possibilities of being more successful at arranging a 329-member Cabinet lineup than his predecessors, who lacked long-lasting Iranian support. 

And so, as he navigates a balance of relations with both the United States and Iran, and as Iraq’s great economic burden increases due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Al-Kadhimi has been able to obtain the sufficient support to be nominated as the Prime Minister-Delegate. 

What is driving al-Kadhimi?

 Answer: The political and economic instability in Iraq.

Mustafa al-Kadhimi is stepping into provisional power as his country faces a generic tragedy, and he must take all of its constituent factors into consideration in order to form a successful government. 

Iraq is currently facing one of the greatest political uprisings in its modern history as protesters want to dismantle the entire administrative structure that was established after Hussein’s downfall. The political crisis is combined with the ongoing economic disaster which has been exacerbated by US-Iran tensions and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The close trade relations with Iran have already affected Iraq’s economy as the US has imposed harsh sanctions on Iran. Moreover, after the US ordered the assassination of Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Leader of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, Iraq demanded the retrieval of US troops from its territory. But the American government threatened to impose direct sanctions on Iraq.

The current global health crisis has also worsened the condition of the Iraqi economy, as it reduced Iraqi oil revenues to half of its prediction, an asset that constitutes more than 60% of the country’s GDP. It has also forced a halt in all other economic activities and threatens to wreck the underfinanced health system. 

Iraq struggles to overcome these political and economic crises but the government lacks the general authority to tackle them. In order to overcome these difficulties, al-Kadhimi must consider the general circumstances his country is facing when proposing a Cabinet lineup. 

What does it mean for you?

Answer: The pleas of Iraqi citizens will be, once again, ignored.

In times of emergency a country needs a strong and united government. But many regimes have utilized crises as an opportunity to overstep the liberties of their citizens. Unfortunately, Iraq is not an exception. 

Throughout the past few months, the Iraqi people have loudly demanded a change in the political system, a halt of external influences and a general improvement in their quality of life. If the third time’s really a charm and al-Kadhimi is able to form a government, the secular power-sharing structure will remain; he has been part of this system and he has indicated he will “play by the old rules with these stakeholders”. Similarly, the US and Iran have both endorsed al-Kadhimi’s nomination, and if his strength relies on his ties with the US and Iran, external influence will most likely not be reduced one bit. 

Iraq does need a Prime Minister-delegate’s nomination to be fruitful in order to surmount the crises it is facing. But if the popular uprisings against the outdated system have been the cause of the current power vacuum, how is filling it with more of the same going to truly solve the issue?

Laura Escobar Díaz

External Contributer