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Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, Iraq's new PM-designate

More than four months after Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned, and after two other Prime Minister-designates failed to form a government, Iraq's President has tasked Mustafa al-Kadhimi with leading the country forward.

Kadhimi (مصطفى الكاظمي) is 53 years old and he wrote that he will work "tirelessly to present Iraqis with a program and cabinet that will work to serve them, protect their rights and take Iraq towards a prosperous future." He says he seeks to "put the aspirations and demands of Iraqis at the top of its priorities, safeguards the sovereignty of the country, preserves rights, works to solve crises, and pushes the economy forward." Iraq is in the midst of unprecedented turmoil. Just three years ago the country was on the verge of defeating ISIS in Mosul. However, since then it went through the Kurdistan referendum in September, the clashes between Baghdad and Erbil in October that led to the displacement of tens of thousands of Kurds from Kirkuk, the continued ISIS threats and several major operations to root out ISIS in Hamreen mountains, failure to provide for return of IDPs to Sinjar, protests in the summer of 2018 and the fall of 2019, attacks on Iran's consulates, dozens of rocket attacks on bases with US troops, and the killing of hundreds of protesters. It also faces a severe economic crises, declining oil prices, infrastructure that is aging and falling apart in places like Basra and now the threat of coronavirus.

In addition there are continued threats by pro-Iranian groups to increase their targeting of US forces. The US-led Coalition is withdrawing from a half-dozen bases and most of the non-US troops are leaving. The US has consolidated its positions primarily to Ayn al-Assad and Erbil, wrapping up a role in Anbar, Q-West, Mosul/Nineveh, K-1, and other areas.

Kadhimi's appointment has been welcomed across the political spectrum. Kurdish parties, including the KDP and PUK, appear supportive. Iran and the UN have welcomed his choice, and he has received warm words from other key factions such as Badr's Hassan al-Kaabi and Hakim's faction. Media from Tehran to Riyadh to Washington generally portray him as a positive and potentially unifying choice. We previously profiled Adnan Zurfi on March 17 and Tawfiq Allawi on February 2 as well as the massacre of protests that led to Abdul Mahdi's resignation and the political machinations between Muqtada al-Sadr's party and the Fatah alliance in December.

The appointment of Kadhimi was opposed in March when Kataib Hezbollah had said it would be a "declaration of war." Abu Ali al-Askari of KH had slammed Kadhimi: "He [Kadhimi] is one of those accused of helping the American enemy to assassinate top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and deputy head of Hashd al-Shaabi [PMF], Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, therefore his nomination is a  declaration of war on the Iraqi people, and will burn the remaining  stability in Iraq,” Askari tweeted at the time.

The Iraq National Intelligence Service, which Kadhimi led, replied that “All of our duties are being conducted for the sake of Iraqi interests, not the hysteria and accusations of the outlaws." Kadhimi's name was already suggested for PM in December. He was seen as a reformist and positive new face for the leadership. Online his appointment has been greeted with praise, criticism and hope that the third time around Iraq will finally have a new PM. There are also questions about his political leanings, whether he is close to Iran or more of an Iraqi nationalist or something else. The opposition that pro-Iranian groups had to to him in March is clear.

Kadhimi has two new Twitter accounts, here and here, and people have created some apparently fake ones (here). According to several background briefs posted online he was born in 1967 in Kadhimiya, in northern Baghdad. His father was a left-wing activist and the family was from Dhi Qar. He fled Iraq and moved variously to Iran and then Europe where he eventually ended up in the UK.

After the toppling of Saddam Hussein he helped co-found a media group ( شبكة الإعلام العراقي) and ran the Iraq Memory Foundation (مؤسسة الذاكرة العراقية), which documented Baathist crimes. Michael Knights notes "Kadhimi is a writer and intellectual, first known to many people as the columnist and editor of Iraq Pulse, at Al-Monitor. His books include 'The Iraq Question, Islamic Concerns'" and two others. Knights asserts that "Kadhimi's appointment to INIS (by PM Haider al-Abadi, in the height of international support to the counter-IS fight) was a sign that Iraq sought a broad set of international partnerships, and his nomination as PM is doubling down on this message. Iraq knows it needs help."

Sajad Jiyad notes "His experience is in human rights investigations, journalism, conflict mediation and foreign affairs. He is a left-wing secular nationalist that has cultivated ties in Europe and US and has extensive relationships in the Arab world particularly Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and the Gulf." A former activist and journalist, he became head of the intelligence service in 2016.

Kadhimi has been well connected in Iraq for decades. In the period 2006-2008 he was knowledgeable about Iraq's political changes when Ibrahim al-Jaafari was Prime Minister and when Muqtada al-Sadr was bedeviling the US in Iraq. He followed events in Najaf and Karbala closely. He later wrote in 2010 "Throughout the present, seemingly open-ended 'transitional phase' we are still bogged down in, Iraq has witnessed unimaginable atrocities involving macabre violations of basic ethical and religious tenets. These atrocities often acquired the proportions of rampant organized crime for which Iraqi civilians and security forces have had to pay a very high price Disenfranchised groups and individuals, whose interests are best served, and whose lost privileges and dashed dreams are best vindicated, by the perpetuation of general chaos, disorientation and bloodshed, are doing all they can to make a strong comeback, in the spirit of gloating vengeance, to obstruct the emergence of a new Iraqi order and block the prospect of stability and construction in our new Iraq In the throes of the ongoing squabble for portions of the Iraqi cake, both big and small, we have a right to be told how long this 'transition! al phase' is going to last and whether Iraq itself is not entitled to a share of the political market where it is being sold piecemeal."

Kadhimi's appointment is seen as tapping a competent and worldly candidate who has knowledge of Iraq's challenges as well as its place in the Middle East. He has navigated both the politics of Iran as it affects Iraq, as well as formed relationships with Saudi Arabia and the US. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker On Iraq and Middle East Issues said on April 9: "we think he did a fine job over there. If Kadhimi is an Iraqi nationalist, if he is dedicated to pursuing a sovereign Iraq, if he is committed to fighting corruption, this would be great for Iraq, and I think it would be great for our bilateral relationship."

His proposals, such as fighting corruption and making sure all weapons are in the hands of government forces, will be a challenge if he forms a government.

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