Iraq's PM-designate Mustafa Al Kadhimi breaks silence and admits problems

Betrayed by pro-Iranian players, nominee says he rejects pressures to derail cabinet formation

Iraq's designated prime minister Mustafa Al-Khadimi delivers his first televised speech after his nomination ceremony, in Baghdad, Iraq April 9, 2020, in this still image taken from video. Iraqiya TV/Reuters TV via REUTERS IRAQ OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN IRAQ
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Iraq’s prime minister-designate has indicated for the first time serious difficulties in forming a cabinet, saying political pressure he has come under is damaging to the national interest.

Mustafa Al Kadhimi, a former intelligence chief supported by the United States, urged “everyone to put the interest of Iraq above everything else”.

He said in a tweet late on Monday he would only acknowledge forces who “support the course of the state”.

The comments are Mr Al Kadhimi’s clearest response yet to the delays he is encountering ahead of a May 9 deadline to secure a vote of confidence from parliament.

Mr Al Kadhimi received a rude political surprise last week by powerful pro-Iranian players who reversed their initial position of no-objection to his appointment.

They dealt Mr Kadhimi a torrent of political abuse in the last few days, accusing him of upending consensual rules and being too close to Washington, as well as to Kurdish factions he had supported while in opposition to Saddam Hussein.

Mr Al Kadhimi said the government he is trying to form “has to be up to the crisis” and that he rejects “any pressure aimed at undermining the state”.

On April 18, nine days after Mr Al Kadhimi was nominated, he said that cabinet formation talks were “progressing positively” and expressed confidence that “constructive dialogue” would overcome hurdles.

Two Iraqi sources close to Mr Al Kadhimi told The National that he could end up falling for a trap set up by Iran and its allies in Iraq.

It would be difficult for Mr Al Kadhimi, having been the prime ministerial nominee since April 9, to return as head of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, potentially handing the position to a pro-Iranian replacement, they said.

The sources said Mr Al Kadhimi is under enormous pressure to let Shiite players name defence, interior, finance and foreign portfolios, leaving him with little power as prime minister if he accepts a cabinet over which he had little sway in forming.

A grassroots protest movement forced prime minister Adil Abdul Mahdi to resign in November. Pro-Iranian Shiite players linked with militia powers who dominate the legislature thwarted two candidates who President Barham Salih named before Mr Al Kadhimi, objecting to their domestic and foreign policy leanings.

Without a replacement Mr Abdul Mahdi, who became premier in 2018, has been running the government.

Shirwan Mirza, a parliamentary supporter of Mr Al Kadhimi told Iraq’s official news on Sunday that Mr Al Kadhimi could fail like his two predecessors.

“Al Kadhimi was supposed to present his cabinet before Ramadan but some political groups withdrew their support for him,” said Mr Mirza, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).