Iraqi parliament approves new Abadi government -UPDATED

Adel Abdel Mehdi from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq was named oil minister while Ibrahim Jafaari, a former premier, was named foreign minister.

Iraqi parliament approves new Abadi government -UPDATED

World Bulletin/News Desk

The Iraqi parliament approved a new government headed by Haider Abadi as prime minister on Monday night.

No interior or defence minister was named but Abadi pledged to do so within a week. Adel Abdel Mehdi from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq was named oil minister while Ibrahim Jafaari, a former premier, was named foreign minister.

His deputy prime ministers were named as Hoshiyar Zebari, a Kurd and Iraq's only post-Saddam Hussein foreign minister, and Saleh Mutlaq, a secular Sunni Muslim who served in the same position in the last government.

The parliament approved for the ceremonial posts of vice presidents the last prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, former premier Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi'ite, and the last parliament speaker Usama al-Nujaifi. The three have been seen as political rivals.

Abadi, like Maliki from the Shi'ite Islamist Dawa party, pledged to mend Baghdad's relations with Iraqi Kurdistan, push a programme of decentralization and to rebuild the Iraqi army.

The prime minister designate was picked on Aug. 11 as a replacement for outgoing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who dropped his bid for a third term after Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish political blocs rejected him.

The prime minister has until Sept. 10 to submit his government for approval, or Iraq's president must select another candidate for premier.

Maliki, who won the most votes of any candidate in April's national election, was undone by ISIL's seizure of large sections of northern Iraq and the almost total collapse of the Iraqi military almost three months ago.

About one-third of the country is under ISIL domination, while the self-rule Kurdistan region continues to examine whether or not to declare independence.

HONEYMOON IS OVER

The new leader takes office with the public good will of nearly all of Iraq's major political groups, as well as the two most influential outside powers, Iran and the United States, who both pulled the plug on Maliki as the army collapsed in the face of an onslaught by ISIL militants.

Before Abadi was picked as leader, a former U.S. diplomat who worked in Baghdad identified him as someone with the right temperament: less conspiratorial and guarded than Maliki and less inclined to take disagreement personally.

The diplomat described watching Abadi tell a joke at the start of a meeting, disarming a tense atmosphere in a way that would have been impossible for Maliki.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a former Iraqi national security advisor and leading Shi'ite politician, said Abadi was already off to a good start by ensuring that political groups inside Iraq, as well as Washington and Tehran, have given him their backing.

But the prime minister, who was sworn in along with most of his cabinet on Monday, has already hit obstacles, with politicians using brinkmanship to pressure him, said another Western diplomat.

"The honeymoon is officially over."

In his own public remarks, Abadi, a religious Shi'ite who spent two decades in exile in Britain during the rule of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, has emphasised the importance of reconciliation among Iraq's sects and ethnic groups.

In an interview with Reuters in June, he stressed a need for the government in Baghdad to woo back Sunnis who had reluctantly embraced the fighters.

"These alliances between (ISIL) and others have a strategic fault line that is starting to crack," he said.

While Maliki is known for emphasising the importance of consolidating power, Abadi spoke of decentralisation: "There is a huge central authority that is unnecessary," he told Reuters.

Despite having had two brothers executed under Saddam, he acknowledged a need to reform a law banning members of the former dictator's Baath Party from state positions and the military.

"The law in implementation was far from just."

He called for "wide-ranging amnesties", a key demand of the Sunni community for the thousands from their sect jailed for years on blanket terrorism charges, first by the Americans and then the Iraqi security forces.

"Everyone agrees now we need to do something about this - short of (freeing) criminals."

Yet despite his conciliatory manner, politicians from rival groups say Abadi has never veered from the party line of his own Shi'ite Islamist faction, the Dawa Party, until now firmly led by Maliki.

In 2010, when there was a dispute over the formation of the government, Abadi participated in a press conference accusing Maliki's secular opponents of terrorism.

FIRST CLASS CITIZENSHIP FOR SUNNIS

The most urgent task for the government is tackling the insurgency by ISIL. Maliki's opponents, both inside Iraq and abroad, accused the outgoing leader of making the problem worse by excluding Sunnis from the political process, alienating them to the point that they embraced the fighters.

Sheikh Mohammed Saleh al-Bashari, a 52-year old leader of Sunni anti-government demonstrations Maliki tried to crush last year, said Abadi must distance himself from his predecessor.

"Abadi should let the Sunnis feel that they are first class citizens, not like Maliki, who made them feel that they are not part of this country."

He said Abadi will fail to woo the Sunnis unless he can disband the Shi'ite militias that Maliki first opposed but in the past year increasingly relied on to defend Iraqi cities when the army proved incapable.

"Maliki was stronger than him and he couldn't do it," Bashari said, adding that Sunnis would never fight against ISIL as long as they see the Sunni fighters as protectors against the Shi'ite militias.

"The tribes will never fight any group which defended their cities, including the ISIL. Without them, we would be slaughtered by the militias which the government brought to Anbar, Salahuddin and Diyala" provinces. 

KURDISH DEMANDS

While Maliki's relations with Sunnis proved catastrophic, his dealings with Iraq's other big minority, the Kurds, were little better, with officials in the Kurdish region increasingly discussing the possibility of seeking independence.

The senior Kurdish politician, who asked not to be identified to allow him to speak freely about Abadi, said the change in personalities from Maliki was welcome, but would not be enough by itself to win over Kurds. Disputes with Maliki were political in nature, not a factor of his personality, he said.

"Our problems with Maliki were not personal. So how is Haider al-Abadi going to form an inclusive power-sharing government and guarantee he's not going to commit the same mistakes Maliki was committing in the last ten years?"

He described Abadi, longtime head of parliament's financial committee, as "one of the hawks within the Dawa party" in Baghdad's dispute with the Kurds over their share of Iraq's oil revenues, which led to Baghdad halting such payments in January.

The Kurds would demand from Abadi their rightful share of the budget, a referendum over control of disputed territories and a law, in limbo for seven years, defining the rights of national, regional and local governments over oil resources.

"He has to do the opposite of what Maliki did. Whatever Maliki did, if he can do the opposite," the politician said.

DISCORD AMONG SHI'ITES

Demands on Abadi will come not just from the minority Sunnis and Kurds, but from his own fellow Shi'ites, whose fractiousness was put on full display when Maliki refused for days to accept the Dawa Party's decision to replace him.

Hajem Hassani, former parliament speaker and a Sunni from the small Turkmen ethnic minority, described Abadi as a good friend but said the new premier would first have to sort out problems in his own party.

"He has a hard task in front of him because it isn't like he is going to have all the power to handle the situation. He is going to have a hard time," he said. "I hope he will have the full support of his party. When you don't have that full support, you'll have some tough times with your own group, let alone with the others."

Amir al-Kinani, a lawmaker from the Sadr movement, one of Dawa's biggest Shi'ite rivals, said Abadi needs to stand firm against party patronage and cronyism that has destroyed popular faith in the government.

"He should be monitoring his ministers. If there is a minister who is suspected of corruption, the person should not continue in his position," he said.

In his interview with Reuters in June, Abadi himself described the rot in Iraq's governing institutions as going far deeper than the disputes among political leaders at the top.

"Unfortunately, we would agree on the strategy but not the details, and then we leave the procedures to committees. Those higher up don't participate, and then it stalls. We move on to another issue and we forget about it. And six months later we see nothing has been done," he said in June.

"And everyone blames the other."

Last Mod: 08 Eylül 2014, 23:49
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