Iraqi Parliament Approves New Government After Yearlong Delay

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Iraq’s Parliament approved a new government on Thursday that was more than a year in the making but that perpetuates an almost two-decade-old political system that has been blamed for endemic corruption and dysfunction since being ushered in after the U.S.-led invasion.

The new prime minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, presented his list of cabinet ministers to Parliament more than a year after elections last October that were meant to produce a new, reformist government in response to sweeping protests.

The new government embodies a system put in place after the 2003 invasion, which allots key roles for specific sects and ethnic groups, and allocates government ministries to the most powerful political parties, which have routinely used those ministries to enrich themselves.

The parties once again negotiated among themselves to divide up important posts, and once again Nouri al-Maliki, a former prime minister, played a prominent role in the process. Lawmakers approved Mr. Sudani and his cabinet choices in a closed session.

The new cabinet retains the Kurdish politician Fuad Hussein as foreign minister but replaces 16 of the 21 cabinet members named so far. At least two positions were left unfilled, including for the environment ministry, which would have a key role in combating climate change.

The influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, an Iraqi nationalist who has resisted Iranian influence, emerged from elections last year with the biggest single bloc in Parliament. But after months of negotiations failed to form a coalition government, he ordered the resignation of his 73 members and in August announced he was withdrawing entirely from politics.

Mr. Sadr’s withdrawal opened the way for a rival political bloc made up mostly of Iran-backed Shiite parties to take control in a coalition with Kurdish and Sunni political parties. The bloc includes Mr. Sadr’s archrival, Mr. Maliki, who was backed by the United States in his first term as prime minister, and was blamed in his second term for sectarian policies that fueled the rise of the Islamic State.

Parliament earlier this month elected Abdul Latif Rashid as president, as part of a power-sharing agreement among the parties to make Mr. Sudani, a former human rights and labor minister, the new prime minister. That voting took place just after rockets targeted the green zone and central Baghdad, in a sign of Iraq’s continued security instability.

On Thursday, as he presented his cabinet nominees to Parliament, Mr. Sudani pledged to fight corruption that has devastated the country, work to repair ties with the government of the semiautonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq, and build an economy that would create jobs and improve public services.

“Corruption that has affected all aspects of life is more deadly than the corona pandemic and has been the cause of many economic problems, weakening the state’s authority, increasing poverty, unemployment and poor public services,” he told Parliament. He did not set out specific measures his government planned to take.

Iraq has become one of the most corrupt and nontransparent countries in the world, according to independent watchdog groups. In the most recent scandal, $2.5 billion has gone missing from government funds in a scheme involving tax checks issued to companies submitting fake documents. The Interior Ministry this week said it had arrested a key suspect as he tried to flee the country.

The endemic corruption and lack of basic public services and jobs sparked protests three years ago that led to the resignation of the government and the holding of early elections last year. Security forces that included Iran-backed militia fighters responded to the protests by killing hundreds of unarmed demonstrators.

In Parliament on Thursday, one of the political leaders to emerge from the protest movement, Alaa al-Rikabi, was ejected from the session for disrupting proceedings by objecting to the system by which the ministers were chosen.

Some analysts said Mr. Sudani stood little chance of carrying out the sweeping reforms he promised on Thursday.

“At the end of the day, even if he’s 100 percent committed to fighting corruption, his constituency is not the Iraqis calling for anti-corruption, his constituency is the parties that put him in power,” said Renad Mansour, director of the Iraq Initiative program at Chatham House, a policy research center.

Sajad Jiyad, an Iraq-based fellow at the Century Foundation think tank, said the cabinet, with some technocrats among the political appointees, might find it easier than the previous government to enact programs.

Mr. Sudani, a former mayor and provincial governor in southern Iraq before he entered federal politics, is an experienced politician and a former member of Mr. Maliki’s Dawa party. Every previous prime minister since the U.S. invasion had lived in exile when Saddam Hussein held power and then had returned after he was toppled, but Mr. Sudani remained in Iraq.

His predecessor as prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, is a former intelligence chief who took office in 2020 with a pledge to hold early elections, which took place last year. Mr. Sudani said he would also aim to hold elections within the next year.

Although Mr. Sadr is not in government, he remains a potent political force with the power to mobilize supporters in the streets and create instability for any government. He has been clear that he expects early elections.

“Having elections within a year is ambitious and obviously unlikely to happen, but I think that condition is in there as a way of placating Sadr,” said Mr. Jiyad.

Nermeen al-Mufti and Falih Hassan contributed reporting from Baghdad

Sumber: www.nytimes.com

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