In keeping with constitutional requirements, Adel Abdul Mehdi was invited to form a government about a month ago by the President of the Republic. He was the consensus choice of the major players/parties and pledged independence and end to corruption.
One of Abdul Mehdi’s chief requirements was that “technocrats” replace the usual party cronyism is making cabinet ministers. As I explained in earlier posts here, ordinarily the parties “spend” their votes that they have in Parliament to “buy” Ministers in the government. Thusly, the various parties controlled the Ministries which, in turn, reflexively helped the party first and the people afterward.
Abdul Mehdi pledged to abolish this process and replace it with the selection of “technocrats” who would be primarily interested in the nation.
This pledge proved to be impossible to entirely keep. Instead of the “technocrat” approach replacing the previous system, Abdul Mehdi selected from three candidates offered by the political parties for each post as opposed to the parties self-selecting an automatic Minister “bought” with their parliamentary votes. After reviewing these slates, Abdul Mehdi made the final pick from those lists. It is marginally better than the old system but still allows for too much cronyism. As those of us from Chicago know best, corruption dies hard.
Further, Abdul Mehdi was unable to get all of the Ministers required selected at once. Power struggles and party politics kept the new Prime Minister from filing the last eight positions. In these eight are the most influential and important Ministers including Defense Minister and the Interior Minister (the DoD and Homeland Security equivalents in the United States).
The new Prime Minister viewed the partial selection as more important than waiting for a complete slate to be acceptable. This is because his own position and his Cabinet must be approved by the deadline of the Second of November. It is better to have half a loaf now and meet the deadline and assemble the rest later than to risk the entire slate of twenty-two Ministers to be confirmed all at the same time.
Key posts remain vacant
As for these last eight Ministers, the road will be rocky to reach a decision.
The Sunni believe that they are entitled to have the Defense Minister and will likely reject any choice that is not a Sunni.
The Iranian bloc wants to be responsible for appointing the Interior Minister (MoI). Iran wants the new Prime Minister to choose the MoI Minister from Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). The PMF has been the Iraqi militia fighting ISIS. It has been thoroughly infiltrated by Iran and, in its role of protecting the borders; the PMF facilitates Iranian illicit activities and movement across the entire Northern Middle East. This was a huge sticking point with many Parliamentarians and led to a deferred decision.
Also the new PM pledged to completely change the cabinet, holding over no current Ministers. This pledge he was able to keep. Sadly but necessarily, the good went with the bad. Mohammed Shi’ia al Sudani, the former Minister of Work and acting Minister of Industry was swept out with the old. Mohammed al Sudani is known to me from my time in the Maysan Province where he was the Provincial Governor. He is honest and a good man. He is just the kind of man that belongs in government and I hope that there will be a future for him serving the Iraqi people.
Other frictional points in this process provide for future problems for the new Prime Minister.
First, there was no selection from the Basra Province to the cabinet. Basra is the second city of Iraq and has ordinarily been given the Ministers of Oil and Transportation. Iraq’s only port is in Basra and the people there feel that they are entitled to these Ministries because of the closeness of Basra to these issues. Also, Basra has been without a regular supply of water for some time now and there have been riots and general unrest. Abdul Mehdi must tread carefully here.
Second, the conscience of Iraq had spoken about government formation recently. Imam al Sistani recently gave a sermon “suggesting” that any new government should have several hallmarks. Among these are principally that there should be no holdovers, that the selections should be non-sectarian and that the political parties should not be the arbiters of the selection process. Abdul Mehdi was only able to meet these “suggestions” in part. Al Sistani, of course, has no formal role in the process but is ignored at the peril of the government. Their selection had better work out for all concerned or the government will almost certainly fall.
All in all, the process was a step forward to building an anti-corruption government. In hopes for the future, United States congratulated the progress of the new Prime Minister and Secretary of State Pompeo telephoned Mr. Abdul Mehdi to congratulate him and wish him well. The Western Nations have similarly signaled their approval as well.