Iraqi officials deny rumours about 'Iran's man in Baghdad'

Mohammed Al Hashimi was said to have been in president's office during meeting with PM designate

Iraq's President Barham Salih instructs newly appointed Prime Minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, in Baghdad, Iraq February 1, 2020.  The Presidency of the Republic of Iraq Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Powered by automated translation

Iraqi officials dismissed rumours that the man considered to be Iran’s shadow official in Baghdad was present as President Barham Salih met prime minister designate Mohammed Allawi on Saturday.

Pictures on social media showed the reflection of a man thought to be Mohammed Al Hashimi in the glass door of a cabinet behind Mr Salih as he presented Mr Allawi with the decree designating him as prime minister.

Mr Al Hashimi, widely known as Abu Jihad, was key member of departing prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's office.

His presence at the meeting would anger anti-government protesters, whose demands include an end to foreign interference in Iraqi politics.

This handout photograph released by the Iraqi President's Office on February 1, 2020 shows President Barham Salih (R) presenting Mohammad Allawi, a former communications minister and lawmaker, with the decree to appoint him as Iraq's new premier. Iraq's president named former communications minister Mohammad Allawi as the country's new prime minister after an 11th-hour consensus among political blocs, but the streets seemed divided on his nomination. - === RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / IRAQI PRESIDENT'S PRESS OFFICE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ===
A reflection of a man in the cabinet behind President Barham Salih during a meeting with Mohammad Allawi the new Iraqi prime minister designate. AFP

But Iraqi sources told The National that the man in the reflection was definitely not Mr Al Hashimi.

“Various sources in the president’s office have confirmed that Abu Jihad Al Hashimi did not attend the meeting,” a security official said.

“It is a reflection of the president’s photographer, Rasheed Abbas, who is well known."

He said the two men were similar in appearance.

A member of Parliament with close ties to the president's office also denied Mr Al Hashimi was at the meeting.

"The person whose reflection appears in the book cabinet behind President Barham Salih  is not Abu Jihad Al Hashimi as has been reported by so many people," said Farhad Alaaldin, head of the Iraqi Advisory Council and a former political adviser to Mr Salih and his predecessor, Fuad Masum.

"It is amazing how much speculation and conclusions have been reached on a shadow reflection."

Who is Abu Jihad?

Mr Al Hashimi was chief of staff in the prime minister's office when Mr Abdul Mahdi held the post.

He was the main driver behind Mr Abdul Mahdi’s decisions during his time as premier, media reports claim.

Like the former prime minister, Mr Al Hashimi was a member of the Supreme Islamic Council, an Iraqi opposition group formed in Tehran in 1980s to oppose Saddam Hussein's dictatorship.

He also had close ties to the Badr Brigade, the Council's military wing.

The Badr Brigade split with the council in 2003 and transformed into a political party, the Badr Organisation, which is led by Hadi Al Amiri.

Mr Al Hashimi is also known to have links with Iran's Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

What's next for Iraq?

Mr Allawi has will have one month to form a government after his nomination, which ended two months of political deadlock since Mr Abdul Mahdi resigned in November.

In Iraq, cabinets are typically formed after complex negotiations in which parties divide up lucrative and influential ministerial posts based on their strength in Parliament.

Cabinet appointments have to be approved by parliament.

Mr Abdul Mahdi resigned amid mass protests in Baghdad and southern Iraq to demand the removal of the country's political elite.

Protesters have also rejected Mr Allawi's nomination, saying they consider the former communications minister a part of the establishment.