Iraqi PM designate says reconstruction top of his agenda

Adel Abdul Mahdi said restoring Iraq's position in the world will also be a top priority

Iraq's new Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, center, leaves the parliament building in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018. Iraq's new president has tasked veteran Shiite politician Abdul-Mahdi with forming a new government nearly five months after national elections were held, state TV reported late Tuesday. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
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Iraqi Prime Minister designate Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Monday that reconstruction will be on the next administration's top agenda after government formation talks took place.

Mr Abdul Mahdi will need to address the widespread civic unrest and ease standoffs across the country that has brought months of deadlock following elections in May.

"Reconstruction and restoring Iraq's position in the international world will be our top priority," the premier designate said.

He has 30 days to bring together the different political factions and present a cabinet to parliament.

Iraq needs more than $88 billion to rebuild after a brutal three-year war with ISIS, with housing a particularly urgent priority after numerous cities were reduced to rubble.

In Mosul, more than 40,000 houses have been destroyed and around 700,000 people have been displaced, according to UN estimates, in addition to the damage done to religious, governmental and medical buildings, museums and libraries that need restoration.

The country declared "victory" against the insurgents across the country in December. But officials warn that remnants of the group still remain.

Iraqi populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr demanded on Monday to hold corrupt officials accountable for their actions and retrieve any money taken from the state.

"The past few years, political parties have taken control of their positions and of Iraq's funds, whether in legitimate or illegitimate means," the cleric said on Twitter.


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Iraq's key ministerial posts must go to independent technocrats, the cleric said, adding that the public's interests must be taken into consideration. 
Mr Al Sadr has previously warned that Mr Abdul Mahdi must achieve significant reforms within a year or face a nationwide uprising.

The cleric leads one of the two main Shiite blocs alongside outgoing Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. The other is led by Iran-backed militia leader Hadi Al Amiri and former premier Nouri Al Maliki.

The country is suffering from an infrastructure crisis, corruption and wasteful spending. Leading to months of protests in southern Basra where demonstrators have demanded action to fix the stagnant economy and provide jobs.

Mr Al Sadr won plurality by appealing to working class poor who had grown frustrated with the widespread corruption of an entrenched elite.

Newly-elected President Barham Salih appointed Mr Abdul Mahdi as prime minister designate last week.

Mr Abdul Mahdi will also face the hefty task of balancing foreign relations with Iraq's major allies – the United States and Iran. An attempt to heal ethnic and sectarian tensions will also be challenging for the prime minister designate.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Interior Minister Qassem Al Arajai said on Monday that members of a well-known extremist group are responsible for the murder of Iraq social media star Tara Fares.

“Security forces are advancing in their search to arrest the killers," Mr Al Araji said, adding that security forces will "bring justice" to her murderers.

Ms Fares, 22, was one of Iraq's most visible online social media stars, with close to three million Instagram followers. She suffered three fatal bullet wounds as she drove through Baghdad's Camp Sarah district.

Her death came just two days after the murder of Soad Al Ali, 46, a human rights activist in the southern city of Basra.