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Iraq names its third prime minister in 10 weeks

Mustafa al-Kadhimi

Iraq’s president named intelligence chief Mustafa al-Kadhimi as prime minister-designate on Thursday, the third person tapped to lead the country in just 10 weeks as it struggles to replace a government that fell last year after months of deadly protests.


Kadhimi was nominated by President Barham Salih, state television reported, shortly after the previous designated prime minister, Adnan al-Zurfi, announced he was withdrawing having failed to secure enough support to pass a government. 

Iraq, exhausted by decades of sanctions, war and political corruption now faces economic ruin, social unrest and a growing outbreak of the new coronavirus, all of which it must face with only a caretaker cabinet. 

Adel Abdul Mahdi, who resigned under pressure from anti-government protests in November, still heads the government as caretaker prime minister. Salih’s first choice to replace him, Mohammed Allawi, withdrew on March 1 after four fruitless weeks trying to gain support. 

Like Salih’s previous choices to replace Abdul Mahdi, Kadhimi is seen as a political independent, who will have to amass support from the powerful sectarian parties that dominate Iraq’s legislature to approve a cabinet within a month. 

The former journalist, who wrote against dictator Saddam Hussein from exile in Iran and Britain, returned after the U.S. invasion in 2003. He has held his role heading intelligence since 2016. 

“I will work tirelessly to to present Iraqis with a program and cabinet that will work to serve them, protect their rights and take Iraq towards a prosperous future,” Kadhimi wrote on Twitter. 

Zurfi had been rejected immediately by parties allied with Iran who viewed him as a threat to their political and economic power in Iraq, calling him an “American joker” for his ties with the U.S.-backed authorities that ruled Iraq after the 2003 invasion. Thursday marked the 17th anniversary of the day that U.S.-led troops occupied Baghdad. 

Zurfi had signalled he would check the power of Iran-aligned militias in Iraq. Kurdish parties finally decided on Wednesday not to back Zurfi, sealing his fate.