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Will Abdul-Mahdi be once again Iraq's PM?

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 Iraq’s Shiite political parties are divided over whether current caretaker prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi should be reappointed in a bid to end the months-long contention over the choice of his successor.

In a letter penned last week to President Barham Salih and parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, Abdul-Mahdi announced his immediately effective resignation from the official duties of his caretaker premiership. He called on the parliament to make December 4, 2020 the official date for snap elections to be held. 

Despite resigning from official duty, Abdul-Mahdi nominally remains the caretaker prime minister. If he were to secure parliamentary approval, he could be re-appointed to the role of prime minister proper

Abdul-Mahdi resigned from the premiership in December amid widespread popular protests in Iraq’s southern and central provinces that have raged since October 2019, with Iraqis demanding the removal of the post-2003 political elite, an overhaul of the political system, and early elections.

After months of wrangling, Shiite political parties nominated former communication minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi as PM-designate on February 2.  He was given a free hand by Shiite parties to choose an independent cabinet, on the condition that Kurds and Sunnis grant him the same freedom. His insistence to appoint candidates himself, however, caused tensions with Kurdish representatives and divided Shiite political parties. 

Allawi resigned from the role last Monday after failing to secure parliamentary approval to form a cabinet.

President Barham Salih must now appoint a new candidate as premier by next Sunday, according to article 76-3 of the Iraqi constitution.

Shiite political parties, who make up parliament’s majority, are conducting another round of negotiations to settle on a consensus candidate. 

The Fatih Coalition, which placed second in Iraq’s 2018 parliamentary elections, are supporting Abdul-Mahdi’s lead of government until snap elections take place. 

Fatih MP Nassim Abdullah told Rudaw on Saturday that Abdul-Mahdi’s continued tenure is the only way to move past the current political impasse. 

“I would say that no Shiite political party in Iraq has the ability to nominate a candidate to become the next Prime Minister,” Abdullah said.  “Therefore, I believe the best and most suitable solution now is to support Abdul-Mahdi in the parliament to surpass the current political crisis.”

The biggest opponent among Shiite parties to Abdul-Mahdi’s reappointment is the Sayirun bloc, led by Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Sadr met Abdul-Mahdi’s December resignation December with jubilation, hailing it as a “first achievement of the revolution” in reference to the anti-government protest movement. 

Lack of unity within the Shiite political parties in Baghdad resulted in Allawi’s failure to pass a cabinet in parliament, a member of the Hikma Movement told Rudaw on Saturday.

“There is no splitting, but we could say that enough of a gulf grew for Allawi’s cabinet formation to fail,” Hikma MP Aisar Jabiry said. “There are different opinions and views and that is okay.  Sometimes our differences intensify, but they will not reach breaking point.” 

Sunnis too were divided over Allawi’s candidacy, he added, while Kurds were uniformly against Allawi. 

Under the tenure of Abdul-Mahdi, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was granted a 12.6 percent share of the 2019 federal budget. This was conditional on the KRG delivering a quota of 250,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil to Iraq’s state oil marketing company (SOMO).

Although the KRG failed to comply with the oil quota, it still received its share of the budget, angering many Shiite leaders who accused him of being too soft on the Kurds.

For Kurds, priority does not lie in a prime ministerial candidate’s political affiliation or resume, but in if they can create a positive working relation with them. Kurdish MPs are therefore unlikely to oppose his possible reappointment.

“The Kurds do not negotiate about their legal and constitutional rights with Baghdad, such as its share in the annual budget, disputed areas and Kurdish Peshmerga forces,” Mohammed Shakir, a Kurdish member of Iraqi parliament told Rudaw on Saturday. 

Kurds “insisted” on choosing its ministers for the upcoming cabinet from the Kurdistan Parliament in Erbil - not from among Kurdish parliamentary members in Baghdad, Shakir added. 
 
Foreign influence on post-2003 Iraqi government formation looks unlikely to end, with Iranian state media outlet IRNA reporting the arrival of Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, in Baghdad on Saturday to meet Iraq’s three presidencies –Abdul-Mahdi, Salih, and Halbousi.

Shamkhani will also meet Iraqi political party leaders to discuss cabinet formation, IRNA added. 
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