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szdaily -> Person of the week
Haider al-Ibadi From exile to Iraq’s next PM
     2014-August-15  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

    Iraq’s president nominated a new prime minister Aug. 11, further complicating the country’s intense power struggle amid a dire humanitarian crisis and a militant threat strong enough to draw U.S. air power back into the fray.

    IRAQ’S new president Aug. 11 snubbed the powerful incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and nominated the deputy parliament speaker Haider al-Ibadi to form a new government, raising fears of more infighting in the government as the country faces the threat of Sunni militants in the north.

    Al-Maliki’s Dawa Party called on Iraqi politicians to accept the former prime minister’s replacement Wednesday.

    The Dawa Party “called on political blocs to cooperate with the constitutionally designated Prime Minister al-Ibadi, and accelerate the formation of a government in the defined time period,” it said in a statement.

    This marks a change of tone from their earlier decision to reject al-Ibadi’s nomination, but it also reflects Iraq’s need for a unified government.

    The statement was released as al-Maliki continued to protest his removal, stating that legally he is Iraq’s rightful prime minister as he is the leader of the biggest political bloc elected in April. He refused to step down until a court ruled on the legality of the issue.

    Al-Ibadi was nominated for the prime minister’s post by the Iraqi National Alliance, a coalition of Shiite parties that includes al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc. Then in a televised address, President Fouad Massoum officially picked al-Ibadi to form a new government, giving him 30 days to do so and present it to parliament for approval.

    Al-Ibadi is a British-educated lawmaker with a background in electrical engineering and is a member of al-Maliki’s Islamic Dawa party. He has been closely involved in previous governments.

    His nomination by the Shiite alliance brought into the open the long-simmering revolt among Shiite parties against al-Maliki, the Shiite politician who has been in the post for eight years.

    The powerful Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, whose movement controls dozens of seats in parliament, expressed his support for al-Ibadi’s nomination, describing it as the “first sign” the country was headed back to safety.

    Hakim al-Zamili, a lawmaker with the Sadrist movement, cautioned the military, which includes units directly loyal to al-Maliki, not to intervene.

    “The security forces and government bodies belong to the Iraqi people, and they should not interfere in politics,” he said when asked whether al-Maliki might use force to stay in power.

    The new political crisis in Baghdad has raised concerns abroad.

    Speaking to reporters in Sydney, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. stands “absolutely squarely behind President Massoum,” and called for restraint. “There should be no force, no introduction of troops or militias into this moment of democracy for Iraq.”

    Kerry said a new government “is critical in terms of sustaining the stability and calm in Iraq,” and that “our hope is that Mr. Maliki will not stir those waters.”

    The U.N. special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said Iraq’s “special forces should refrain from actions that may be seen as interference in matters related to the democratic transfer of political authority.”

    The American move to directly arm the Kurds underscores the level of U.S. concern about the Islamic State group’s gains. The officials wouldn’t say which U.S. agency is providing the arms or what weapons are being sent, but one official said it isn’t the Pentagon.

    On Aug. 10, Kurdish peshemerga fighters retook two towns from the militants — Makhmour and al-Gweir, some 28 miles (45 kilometers) from Irbil.

    The successes, however, were balanced out by news of a defeat in eastern Diyala province where Kurdish forces were driven out of the town of Jalula after fierce fighting against Sunni militants.

    Al-Ibadi’s biography is typical of many Iraqi Shiite leaders. He was born in 1952, grew up in Baghdad and joined the Dawa Party as a teenager, entering the clandestine opposition to Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Two of his brothers were said to have been killed by Hussein’s government. Al-Ibadi left Iraq in 1977 and moved to London, where he earned a doctorate in electrical engineering from Manchester University.

    Politics in Iraq often carries undertones of violence, as seen in the past few days.

    Heightening the tension were fears that if al-Maliki were to call on the Iraqi Army to back his effort, he could face resistance from militia groups aligned with other political parties.

    “I wish he would cool it down,” said Mohammed Bahr al-Uloum, a lawmaker with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a Shiite party that opposes al-Maliki. Political violence in Baghdad, he said, is the last thing Iraq needs.

    “I don’t want to see more blood in the streets,” Uloum said. “We have enough with ISIS.”

    Al-Ibadi faces the task of quelling the militant group Islamic State, which has killed thousands of Iraqis this year and caused chaos on a rampage through the country. The United States has begun aiding the government through airstrikes targeted at specific areas under attack, such as Irbil and Mount Sinjar, where thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority took refuge.

    Even if the jihadist threat recedes, there will remain the task of reconciling a deeply divided state, with the country’s Kurds likely to push for a separate state. And the divisions between Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite Muslims seem to have deepened further.

    Al-Ibadi peaks English fluently. He started his parliamentary career as minister for communications in 2003 and has the seal of U.S. approval. His father died in exile, and family members who remained in the country under Hussein are believed to have died.

    The highest office he has attained so far is deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament, but he has been spoken of as prime minister before. He has also worked as an adviser to Iraq’s first post-Saddam prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and has been chairman of the Economy, Investment and Reconstruction Committee and the Finance Committee. He was minister of communications from 2003-2004.

    Earlier in the sectarian conflict dominating Iraq, al-Ibadi caused consternation in an interview with The Huffington Post when he said the government would “take any assistance, even from Iran” in fighting the Islamic State — if the United States didn’t help out with airstrikes. This may have just been an effort to secure U.S. assistance, but if serious, it would mark a big break with tradition.

    Al-Ibadi and al-Maliki are currently colleagues in the Islamic Dawa Party, the Shiite party that gained the largest share of the vote in Iraq’s last election. They’re both exiles who returned to help set up Iraq’s post-Saddam government. However, al-Ibadi is thought to be a more inclusive figure than al-Maliki.

    He is also believed to have more support from the educated Iraqi elite, whereas al-Maliki, who spent much of his exile in Damascus, is thought to have the support of the Iraqi army. This military backing may be key if there is a further struggle for power.

    (SD-Agencies)

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