Iraq’s new Prime Minister-designate Mustafa al-Kadhimi was the former head of Iraqi intelligence. He was formerly a journalist in Iran and the UK writing against the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
When Saddam fell he returned to Iraq in 2003 and since 2016 he has been acting as Iraq's intelligence chief.
Looming challenges: There are numerous looming challenges facing this new candidate. First he has to meet the demands of the widespread protesters, and he must meet their demands at a practical, not at a rhetorical, level.
Second, he has to address the challenges of the militia forces in the country. Some of the militias are pro-Iranian and they have no interest in strengthening Iraqi sovereignty. These militias will certainly seek to hinder his efforts to form a new cabinet.
Third, he has to do something about COVID-19 and the health sector service crisis.
Fourth, he must find a new mechanism to tackle US-Iran tensions in Iraq, which has brought the country to the brink of civil war.
Five, he must address the economic crisis created by the decline of oil prices and a large public payroll.
Six, he must address rampant corruption and a lack of transparency, implement urgent reforms, improve public services and rebuild the infrastructure of the country, heavily damaged by decades of war, most recently with Islamic State.
Seven, he must also sort out the security crisis nationwide.
Eight, he must also hold accountable those who murdered and assassinated protesters.
Nine, he must convince the elite and ruling people of Iraq to at least temporarily halt their partisan and economic interests just to save the country from collapse.
Ten, he has to use his diplomatic skills and experience in persuading all the political blocs to support him, while not ignoring the dissenting voices and demonstrators.
Strength and weaknesses
Kadhimi has the support of the majority of political parties and political blocs in parliament. Also mainstream media and open resources indicate that he can have the support of Iran, Gulf states and the US. This is all thanks to his neutrality and honesty in his previous position and not being accused of murder and bloodshed.
He does not have his own political party. He is also against those militias who do not want Iraq to have a national armed forces. His neutrality and non-partisan attitude since he has held his prestigious position supports him. He has good knowledge, experience and a wide network in the intelligence sector.
He will have the support of Iran only on one condition: if he can persuade the Americans to ease the new suffocating sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic.
He has less than a month to form his cabinet, with the deadline May 8. The parliament, a majority of political parties and the street prefer him because he is largely considered as honest, transparent and having a strong personality. But this alone cannot guarantee his success.
What is expected from him in the short term?
Kadhimi is expected to enforce an extremist reform agenda, at least in the short term. Finding short-term solutions for Iraq's contemporary issues, like the coronavirus, declining oil prices, a crumbling economy and strengthening the private sector, must be found immediately.
He has to pave the way for a clear, fraud-free election by passing a new election law and addressing the lack of integrity, while implementing reforms within Iraq's High Electoral Commission. He must also return sovereignty and independence to the Iraqi government, on a local, regional and international level.
Kadhimi will have to keep the balance between the US and Iranian interest in Iraq, create a negotiating delegation to find a sustainable strategy to strengthen diplomatic, security and economic interests between Iraq and the US and find and assign qualified, independent and skilled candidates to fill the ministerial positions. He must be especially carefully selecting candidates for the Defense and Interior ministries.
But without the full support of demonstrators, political parties and regional and international support, Kadhimi won't be able to form his cabinet. He will not be able to side either with the US, nor with rival Iran, as this will be suicide for him.
We can only hope that he can keep the balance and interest of both countries, creating a win-win situation not only for those two powerful countries, who are the main actors in Iraq, but also making Iraq a regional player, recovering from previous disasters too numerous to count.
If he sides with the protesters he will lose the support of the elite political parties; if he sides with them he will lose the confidence and trust of demonstrators, creating a catch-22 scenario for him.
All he can do now at such a surreal time in Iraq is focus on rebuilding the infrastructure, saving the economy, strengthening the public and private partnership and improving public services, especially for the southern parts of Iraq, areas with hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people.
There is a hope that with a new government some reforms might seem possible. People in Iraq hope that he can rebuild US-Iraq strategic partnerships, but not at the expense of Iran. Because Iran is such a powerful and influential neighbor to Iraq, the very existence of the republic depends on Tehran’s interests.
There is a hope that his previous work experience in intelligence might be advantageous for him to catch three birds with one stone: save Iraq from multiple crises, appease Iran and return the might of the US to the region.
All of this depends on his choices in selecting the ministers for his cabinet. Let's hope for the best as Iraq desperately needs a government that will put the interest of the country before the interest of partisan politics.
Iraq has huge hydrocarbon and human resources. It only lacks a sustainable management system. One can see that if the new prime minister will be surrounded by wise, independent and honest people in his cabinet, he will achieve relative success. That is all the people need for the moment.
If Kadhimi can meet and fulfill the criteria described in this article one can hope for the sovereignty of Iraq restored again. Let's hope Kadhimi will translate his Twitter promise into a promising reality for the Iraqi people:
“I am honored and privileged to be tasked with forming Iraq’s next government. I will work tirelessly to present Iraqis with a program and cabinet that will work to serve them, protect their rights and take Iraq towards a prosperous future."
The writer is a former national consultant with the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq. He has worked for several think tanks, and as an independent adviser, he assists international organizations in the Iraqi and Kurdistan Region.