Iraqi leadership selection process in chaos

The process of naming the Iraq’s parliamentary speaker, as well as the country’s president and the prime minister, has been marred by disputes,  accusations and U-turns, since the May elections.

Iraqi members of parliament elected a speaker on September 15, more than four months after the elections, which were complicated by vote fraud allegations and a partial ballot recount.

The selection of Mohammed al-Halbousi as parliamentary speaker did not pass without controversy. Halbousi, a Sunni politician, won the vote thanks to the support of the pro-Iran bloc led by militia leader Hadi al-Amiri. Halbousi also received the bulk of Kurdish votes in parliament.

“[Iranian Major-General] Qassem Soleimani has successfully reunified Shia forces and secured posts for Sunnis that have followed them,” Iraqi political commentator Hisham al-Hashemi told Agence France-Presse.

In Iraq’s post-2003 political system, the post of parliament speaker is reserved for a Sunni politician, while the prime minister is a Shia and the president is a Kurd.

Prior to the vote, Halbousi’s most serious rival for the post, former Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi, said he suspected members of parliament had been bribed to vote for a certain candidate.

Obeidi, who belongs to the bloc headed by caretaker Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, did not comment after Halbousi was elected but other lawmakers protested that some of their colleagues were taking photos and writing down the names of parliamentarians who voted for Halbousi.

“What happened was a mark of disgrace on parliament. I saw it with my own eyes… members of parliament were selling their conscience,” lawmaker Majida al-Tamimi, who belongs to the bloc headed by influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr told a Basra radio station, although he did not direct blame at a specific party.

Iraq’s biggest political blocs are struggling to agree on whom to field for the post of next prime minister despite the withdrawal of rival heavyweights from the race, including Abadi and Amiri.

Traditionally, the largest bloc in parliament names its choice for prime minister for lawmakers to vote on. However, because some lawmakers have reportedly switched sides or joined larger blocs, both al-Sadr and Amiri claim to lead the largest bloc in parliament, prompting both leaders to discuss agreeing on a consensus candidate.

Reports suggested that the two men might possibly agree on Shia politician Adil Abdul-Mahdi for the role but a delay in announcing his name prompted observers to say that Mahdi was not a serious contender but a distraction to buy time.

Iraq’s rival Kurdish politicians also broke with tradition in the fielding of their nomination for the country’s presidency. The last two Iraqi presidents were from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) but this term the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) wants the presidency, arguing that it has a larger number of lawmakers in parliament.

The PUK named veteran politician Barham Salih as its candidate. Salih had left the PUK in 2017 to found the Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CDJ) but has since resigned from the CDJ and rejoined the PUK  in order to be nominated for position of president.

The KDP said it rejected Salih’s candidacy but the party has yet to announce its own candidate. Reports suggested that former minister Hoshyar Zebari could be the KDP’s choice.

Zebari, who is a maternal uncle of KDP leader Masoud Barzani, is likely to be viewed as less fitting for Iraq’s presidency than Salih, given Zebari’s fervent support for the secession of the Kurdistan region from the rest of the country.

“Zebari went from representing Iraq as foreign minister for a decade to leading the Kurdish referendum to divide the country. Someone like former Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih would be a more suitable candidate because he is well liked across Iraq based on the fact he has always spoken of a united and federal Iraq, something a ceremonial position such as the presidency needs,” noted Iraqi commentator Hamzeh Hadad.

This edited article first appeared in The Arab Weekly
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