ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Iraq’s prime minister-designate, met with party leaders and the Speaker of the Iraqi parliament on Sunday, to discuss possible candidates for his Cabinet of Ministers. In a first for the new Iraq, he has been given a free hand to pick candidates.
According to his media office, Abdul-Mahdi met individually with State of Law chief Nouri al-Maliki, the Sunni Qarrar Alliance leader Osamah Nujaifi, and Shiite Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia leader Qais al-Khazaali.
He also met with former speaker Salim al-Jabouri, Ataa Movement members, former defense minister Khalid al-Obeidi, and others.
All sides extended their congratulations on his appointment by President Barham Salih last week, wishing him success in forming the government and serving Iraq.
“Also, political conditions and forming the next government were discussed, stressing on the content of the governmental program, and the priorities of the government in building, supporting security, stability, providing services, job opportunities, and bolstering foreign relations,” the statement added.
Abdul-Mahdi also met with Mohammed al-Halbousi, the new Speaker of the parliament, according to a statement from Halbousi’s media office.
“He [Halbousi] reiterated the importance of forming a strong government of services based on the standards of competency, integrity, and of that which can face the current challenges and fulfilling the expectations of the Iraqi public,” his media office said.
Halbousi hopes this can be achieved quickly and within the constitutional timeline, it added.
Abdul-Mahdi, an independent Shiite politician selected by consensus and compromise, was granted 30 days from his designation on October 2 to form his government. Chosen in order to lead a technocratic government, the parties have given Abdul-Mahdi the freedom to handpick his cabinet.
Abdul-Mahdi himself has put forth four conditions for his government – that he must be independent in picking his ministers; that parties present five candidates for each post; that he is given a free hand in running the government; and that party and political interference in governmental work is eliminated.
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, head of the Sayirun alliance, has already said he will not put forward any candidates for Abdul-Mahdi’s cabinet. Sadr also called on the PM-designate to keep a grip on key security posts and to assign them to independents.
More than 40 civil society organizations met this week in Baghdad to put forth a roadmap for the new government.
“Every province knows its right to oil and gas, as an example, in Kurdistan, Basra, etc. Since Iraq is now a rentier state, it needs to organize state resources, ways of expenditure, and how to distribute these revenues in a socially just manner,” Kadhim Hussein, a civil activist attending the Baghdad conference, told Rudaw.
Ammal Saqqar, another civil activist, argued the next government needs to understand the issues it has inherited from past negligence and the lack of knowledge and experience in state administration.
“That needs to be resolved. There is the case of reconstruction, which is a dangerous case, the return of IDPs, and then there is the topic of the disappeared,” Saqqar said.
Raaid Fahmi, a prominent member of the Iraqi Communist Party and a member of the Sayirun alliance, told Rudaw that Kurdistani participation in Baghdad is essential, but said there needs to be unity between Kurdish parties.
“Whatever the share, I don’t think that will be a problem. It will reach an acceptable formula. Second, who will represent this case? If things are put forth at a time of division, as to which Kurdistani party are ministries reserved?” Fahmi said.
Fahmi is referring to the cracks in the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) united front, and the fact that other Kurdish parties have decided to go at it alone in the parliament, causing a sharp division among the Kurdish parties.
“There are criteria for the distribution of posts. Not just any party or bloc can gain a ministry. There are criteria for this matter. God willing, as we discussed, everyone will get their share,” Nahlah Rawi, member of the Nasr (Victory) coalition, told Rudaw.
The Sunnis, although largely divided, are also discussing putting forth candidates for ministerial positions, with some recommending nominees who have been ministers before. The PM-designate, however, is seeking new faces.
Abdul-Mahdi has little time left to form a government capable of addressing reconstruction, unemployment, the crippling water crisis that has damaged agriculture, and one that can resolve issues between Baghdad and Erbil.
As a self-confessed believer in federalism, his Abdul-Mahdi’s new government could bode well for Erbil if Kurdish parties can mend fences.