Iraq’s parliament on Tuesday elected as president Kurdish politician Barham Salih, who immediately named Shi’ite Adel Abdul Mahdi prime minister-designate, ending months of deadlock after an inconclusive national election in May.
The presidency, traditionally occupied by a Kurd, is a largely ceremonial position, but the vote for Salih was a key step toward forming a new government, which politicians have failed to do since the election.
Under Iraq’s constitution, Salih - a 58-year-old, British-educated engineer who has held office in both the Iraqi federal and Kurdish regional governments - had 15 days to invite the nominee of the largest parliamentary bloc to form a government. He chose to do so less than two hours after his election.
Since Saddam Hussein was toppled in a 2003 U.S.-led invasion, power has been shared among Iraq’s three largest ethnic-sectarian components.
The most powerful post, that of prime minister, has traditionally been held by a Shi’ite Arab, the speaker of parliament by a Sunni Arab and the presidency by a Kurd.
A former vice president, oil minister and finance minister, Abdul Mahdi now has 30 days to form a cabinet and present it to parliament for approval.
Abdul Mahdi, 76, is a trained economist who left Iraq in 1969 for exile in France, where he worked for think-tanks and edited magazines in French and Arabic. He is the son of a respected Shi’ite cleric who was a minister in the era of Iraq’s monarchy, overthrown in 1958.
He will become the first elected prime minister in post-Saddam Iraq not to hail from the Shi’ite Islamist Dawa party.
Abdul Mahdi was nominated by two rival blocs, one led by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and outgoing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and the other Hadi al-Amiri and former premier Nuri al-Maliki.
SHI’TE CONFLICT AVERTED
Both blocs claim to hold a parliamentary majority but the dispute has been rendered irrelevant by their choice of the same man to be premier.
“The nomination of Mr Adel Abdul Mahdi came after an agreement between the Binaa bloc and the Islah bloc to nominate him via consensus and not a majority bloc in order to get past the issue of which is the majority bloc,” said Ahmed al-Asadi, a spokesman for the Binaa bloc led by Amiri and Maliki.
The rival claims to a parliamentary majority and uncertainty over the composition of the new government had raised tensions at a time when public impatience is growing over poor basic services, high unemployment and the slow pace of rebuilding after the war with Islamic State.
Sadr’s bloc welcomed Abdul Mahdi’s nomination. The cleric earlier on Tuesday tweeted that “Iraq is bigger than the biggest bloc,” a likely reference to the compromise.
Abadi issued a statement congratulating Abdul Mahdi and wishing him success.
“Abdul Mahdi’s nomination represents the best choice to pleasing all the Shi’ite players who were about to reach a point of conflict and no return,” said Baghdad-based political analyst Ahmed Younis.
“All the Shiite blocs reached the conclusion that their divisions could lead to an intra-Shi’ite conflict which would weaken their position in Iraqi,” he said. “Now with Abdul Mahdi there are no winners and losers, everyone is happy.”