Iraq appoints a new prime minister while former one refuses to leave his post amid crisis

YUSUF SELMAN İNANÇ @yusufsinanc
ISTANBUL
Published
Iraq appoints a new prime minister while former one refuses to leave his post amid crisis

Iraq, which is facing disintegration due to the increasing ISIS threat, has entered into a new political crisis over the dispute on whom to be prime minister. Daily Sabah gives a brief biography of former PM al-Maliki and of the new PM al-Abadi

One of the top Iraqi political leaders Haidar al-Abadi has taken over the prime ministry post, after the recently appointed Fouad Massoum gave him the authority to form a new government. The appointment of al-Abadi brings to an end the era of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has bitterly opposed the change. Al-Maliki accused the president of violating the constitution in a tough televised speech that will likely deepen political tensions while insurgency rages.

Special Forces loyal to Maliki were deployed on Sunday night in strategic areas of Baghdad, police said. Several police sources also said the forces had taken up positions at key entrances of the sprawling capital on Sunday. Yet, the explicit support of the U.S. and the withdrawal of the Shiite bloc's support has left Maliki alone and seemingly paved the way for a new era in the deeply troubled country as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has been controlling several cities and attempting to expand its borders. Daily Sabah delved into the Iraqi politics through giving brief information on al-Maliki and al-Abadi. Al-Abadi has 30 days to form the new government and is expected to re-build trust among Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites.

WHO IS FORMER PM NOURI AL-MALIKI?

When Nouri al-Maliki became prime minister of Iraq in 2006, even the officials of the Bush administration were not familiar with his name. However, American officials believed that he could overcome the sectarian division in Iraq when he won the office. Unfortunately, though, during his tenure as prime minister, he was frequently accused of applying sectarian policies against Sunnis who had increased the tension between Sunni and Shiite populations. The tension resulted in the death of thousands of people as suicide bombing became a part of Iraqi politics.



Nouri al-Maliki was born on June 20, 1950, in Hindiya, Iraq. In the late 1960s, he joined the Islamic Dawa Party in opposition to Saddam Hussein. Al-Maliki attended school in Hindiya, and received his bachelor's degree at Usul al-Din College in Baghdad. He then received a master's in Arabic literature from the University of Baghdad. He had to leave Iraq in 1979, and went to Syria. In 1982 his new destination was Iran's Tehran, but he returned to Syria in the 1990s. After Saddam Hussein was overthrown in April 2003, former opposition group members began returning to Baghdad - including al-Maliki. A power struggle started among different political factions after Saddam was defeated, and two powerful Shiite political groups emerged to take power. The two were the al-Dawa party and the militia group Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Al-Maliki was appointed vice president for the "de-Baathification" of the former Iraqi government and military personnel. He was then appointed as vice president of the provisional parliament, and helped to draft the country's constitution.

In January 2005, al-Maliki won a seat in the Transitional National Assembly, where the Dawa Party leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari was chosen as prime minister. Meanwhile, Iraq plunged into sectarian violence and civil war.

After the loss of confidence in the prime minister due to the escalation of the violence, the Iraqi parliament chose al-Maliki as prime minister. One of the main motivations behind the appointment of Nouri al-Maliki for prime minister was the idea that he was not as close to Iran as his predecessor al-Jaafari, and he had the support of the Kurds. It was believed that he was ready to work with other Baathists who had positions in the government.

Once in power, al-Maliki worked to help formulate agreements on the structure of government, and unify the various religious and political factions. He consolidated his political power by sending Iraqi troops in Basra, the second largest city, who successfully fought the rebellion of Moqtada al-Sadr's militias. He played a key role in developing the agreement with the United States that resulted in the departure of American forces from Iraqi cities in June 2009.

With the American help, the successes against al-Sadr, and by receiving the support of Sunni Arabs and Kurds, al-Maliki strengthened his position in the Iraqi politics. In his first term as prime minister, he frequently underlined the integration of Iraq and the significance of compromise among the rival political factions. He also signed contracts with international energy giants over the sale of the oil worth of billions of dollars.

When the Obama administration signaled that American forces leaving Iraq, al-Maliki started tightening his influence and controlling over key political institutions. In other words, the peaceful and compromising face of al-Maliki started changing. For instance, the secular Iraqiya bloc lost the parliamentary elections, but its leader, Iyad Allawi, was in a race against al-Maliki, and started working to find partners for a new coalition government. According to the Constitution of Iraq, the Iraqiya bloc had the first opportunity to form a government, but al-Maliki pressured the Iraqi Supreme Court to grant him authority instead.

In 2011, another decision of the Supreme Court sought by al-Maliki gave him control of the bodies responsible for the management of the central bank to hold fair elections and surveys on corruption. The following year, he forced the governor of the central bank to resign, and arrested the chairman of the Independent Election Commission of the nation. Under al-Maliki, the Iraqi parliament was stripped of its power to even propose legislation, while the office of commander-in-chief came under direct supervision of the Prime Minister regarding the military and the security of the nation.

Despite expanding his power, al-Maliki has rejected criticism that accused him of grabbing power and violating the constitution. Yet, al-Maliki justified his actions by claiming that Iraq needed a powerful prime ministry to combat terrorist activities, carried out by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). He was also criticized for being too close to Iran, but he rejected the claims stating it was all politics. Yet, it was believed that Tehran had a finger on the elimination of Allawi, and the consolidation al-Maliki's power.

Within a few hours of the last American troop convoy leaving Iraq, al-Maliki ordered the arrest of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, the highest-ranking Sunni politician in Iraq, claiming that he was running death squads across the country. Al-Hashimi is still in exile, and cannot enter Iraq. Finance Minister and Sunni politician, Rafe al-Essawi, was arrested three months later, igniting anger in Sunni-dominated areas. After the sectarian conflict surfaced, thousands of civilians from both Shiites and Sunnis lost their lives. Al-Maliki was criticized for his sectarian policies, which frustrated Iraqi Sunnis; therefore, some Sunni tribes have not combatted the ISIS presence in the country as they were excluded from politics, and under pressure due to their sect.

WHO IS THE NEW IRAQI PRIME MINISTER AL-ABADI?

The new Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi, is a discreet figure who spent much of his life in exile in Britain before returning to Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Al-Abadi was born in Baghdad in 1952. He joined the Islamic Dawa Party, the political bloc of former Prime Minister al-Maliki, at the age of 15. His father, Jawad al-Abadi, was a doctor and hospital director in Baghdad who later become inspector general at the Department of Health of Iraq. After the Baathists took power, Abadi and his family came into conflict with the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein who was toppled after the invasion in 2003.



Al-Abadi studied electrical engineering in Baghdad. In the late 1970s, he moved to the U.K. to complete a Ph.D. at the University of Manchester. In the U.K., al-Abadi became an outspoken critic of the Hussein regime.

In 1982, the Baathists executed two of his brothers. He canceled his Iraqi passport in 1983, and his father who died in exile was buried in London.
According to the biography of al-Abadi, posted on his Facebook page, al-Abadi worked in the U.K. as a "technology expert [on] rapid transit." He opened a small business in 1997, and received a grant from the Department of Trade and Industry for technological innovation.

Al-Abadi also opened a cafe popular with Iraqi exiles in London. After returning to Iraq in 2003, he became a senior advisor to al-Maliki in the first post-invasion Iraqi government. He held a series of senior positions, including Minister of Communications and most recently, deputy speaker of Parliament. In 2005, he served as advisor to the Prime Minister of Iraq in the first elected government, and he was elected as a member of the Iraqi parliament in 2005 as well, chairing the parliamentary committee on economy, investment and reconstruction.

The name of al-Abadi was on the table as a candidate for the prime ministry during the formation of the Iraqi government in 2006. Yet, previous Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was replaced by Nouri al-Maliki. In 2008, al-Abadi remained steadfast in his support for Iraq's sovereignty, and signaled that he was not pleased with the U.S. presence in the country. In 2009, al-Abadi was identified by the Middle East Economic Digest as a key person to oversee the reconstruction of Iraq. He has become an active member of the advisory committee of oil in Iraq. It was one of the Iraqi politicians to support prosecutions against the infamous Blackwater, a U.S. military contractor deployed in Baghdad for providing security, which was held responsible for the murder of 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007. Al-Abadi was again tipped as a possible prime minister during the difficult negotiations between Iraqi political blocs in the following weeks of the 2010 elections to choose a successor to incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Al-Abadi was re-elected as a member of the Iraqi Parliament representing Baghdad at the general election held on March 7, 2010. In 2013, he chaired the Finance Committee.

After months of political deadlock, the moderate faction Dawa supported the candidacy of al-Abadi as prime minister on Monday. Al-Abadi's first policy will be stopping the disintegration of Iraq, and to stem the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which has seized large parts of the Northern and Western Iraq. In an interview in June with The Huffington Post, al-Abadi said the ISIS militants' seizure was a real catastrophe, not only for Iraq, but for the entire region, and for the West too. He said that the Iraqi government was able to defend Baghdad, but it needs external help, even from Iran if necessary. A moderate, al-Abadi is likely to enjoy the support of Kurds and Sunnis, who have been accusing al-Maliki of pursuing a sectarian agenda, and excluding them from power.

Al-Abadi seems to be a more humble figure, compared to al-Maliki. But his appointment gives hope for a new era in Iraq that is exhausted by sectarian conflict.

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