Iraq's PM-designate Mustafa Al Kadhimi in political trouble, ally says

Kurdish MP indicates that the third nominee in two months may not be able to form a Cabinet

FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2019 file photo, a protester rests by a mural with Arabic that reads, "I want my oil," in Baghdad, Iraq. The historic crash in oil prices in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic is reverberating across the Middle East as crude-dependent countries scramble to offset losses from a key source of state revenue. Iraq faces the most dire situation, and officials are trying to find ways to cut spending. Iraq saw massive protests the past months by a populace angry over the weak economy and rampant corruption -- and the turmoil could erupt again. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, File)
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A parliamentary supporter of Iraq’s latest Prime Minister-designate Mustafa Al Kadhimi cast doubt on whether he could form a Cabinet, in the first acknowledgement from the allied camp of the secular nominee that he is in political trouble.

Shirwan Mirza of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) told Iraq’s official news agency late on Sunday that Mr Al Kadhimi, an intelligence chief supported by Washington, could fail like his two predecessors.

Mr Mirza said Mr Al Kadhimi was hoping to be approved by parliament before the month of Ramadan.

“The Cabinet talks are ongoing but have not reached a result so far,” Mr Mirza said. “Al Kadhimi was supposed to present his cabinet before Ramadan but some political groups withdrew their support for him.”

The Kurdish parliamentarian was referring to pro-Iranian Shiite players linked with militia powers who dominate the legislature and who had initially indicated that they would let Mr Al Kadhimi form his Cabinet.

Mr Mirza said if Mr Al Kadhimi does not suffer “the same fate” as his predecessors”, parliament could convene a physical vote-of-confidence session despite the coronavirus.

A grass roots protest movement forced the 78-year old prime minister, Adil Abdul Mahdi, to resign in November. But without a replacement he has since been running the government. Mr Abul Mahdi became premier in 2018, crowning his five-decade career in politics.

President Barham Salih nominated Mr Kadhimi on April 9 to form a new cabinet with a one-month deadline. The Shiite groups in the legislature thwarted two candidates Mr Salih named before Mr Al Kadhimi, objecting to their domestic and foreign policy leanings.

Secular Iraqi television channel Al Sumeriya reported on Monday that Mr Al Kadhimi could withdraw his nomination “in the coming days”, but that his Shiite foes were too divided to agree on a replacement candidate. In the previous two weeks, the Shiite power brokers silenced most Shiite voices in parliament in favour of Mr Al Kadhimi.

Internal feuds have ravaged the Kurds for decades, but their parliamentary bloc is politically consistent. It is mainly comprised of the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDB), which is controlled by the Barzani clan.

Shiite militias thwarted Kurdish aspirations for independence from Iraq in 2017 and are unanimous in their suspicion of figures like Mr Al Kadhimi.

Mr Kadhimi supported Kurdish aspirations while he was in exile in London before the US invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 and is a friend of Mr Saleh, the president and a PUK figure.

The Kurds, however, have made it clear that their support to Mr Al Kadhimi is not open-ended, and that they want to maintain Finance Minister Fouad Hussein, a close associate of Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, in the next Cabinet.

Downplaying any potential Kurdish sway over the prime minister-designate, Mr Mirza said the Kurds have ‘no problem maintaining or changing’ the three ministers they were allotted in the 15-member cabinet.

Pressure on Mr Kadhimi to distance himself from the Kurds rose after the authorities ordered the finance ministry this month to halt funding to the Kurdish north of the country, the latest move in recurring dispute over oil resources.

An April 16 letter seen by The National from the Council of Ministers to Mr Hussein, the finance minister, said his ministry was "obliged to stop making payments" to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

The letter cited the failure of the KRG to share oil with the central government since at least October last year.

Differences over energy resources have been a long-running feature of Iraqi politics since the Kurdish administration began officially exporting oil through Turkey in 2009. But the turmoil, and Mr Al Kadhimi’s special relationship with the Kurds, shoved the issue back into the political fray.