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Iraqis hopeful new government will bring reform

While Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi formed a government much quicker than after the 2006 and 2010 elections, he is still facing a myriad of challenges

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Iraqis are hopeful that their new government will implement necessary reforms, but Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi faces challenges, not least from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Describing himself as “cautiously optimistic,” Ali Khedery, the longest continuously serving U.S. official in Iraq from 2003 to 2009, said: “Abadi so far is saying the right things, which is a good start because [former Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki was saying and doing all the wrong things.”

Abadi, who like Maliki hails from the Shiite Al-Dawa party, expressed his desire to solve Iraq’s problems inclusively.

Abadi formed a government much quicker than after the 2006 and 2010 elections, a development dubbed by Washington on Monday as a “milestone.”

Khedery says the government has more suitable figures in some key ministries.

Iraq’s former Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebrari is now deputy prime minister, former deputy premier Roz Nouri Shawis is finance minister, and most importantly, Adel Abdelmahdi - who has occupied various positions, including vice president and finance minister - is energy minister.

Khedery described these figures as “excellent,” saying he was especially “optimistic” about Abdelmahdi.

“I am optimistic regarding the oil issue,” Khedery said. “Abdelmahdi is much more likely than his predecessors to solve many of the problems between Arbil and Baghdad because of his temperament and because of his decaldes-old personal relationships with [Kurdistan Regional Government President] Masoud Barazani and [former Iraqi President] Jalal Talabani,” who is also Kurdish.

There has long been a spat between Baghdad and the Kurds regarding oil, with the central government saying it belongs to the country as a whole, not just Kurdistan. The latter is trying to bypass Baghdad in selling oil.

“Since Iraq does not have robust institutions and a critical mass of career civil servants. The future of the country depends on personalities. Some of the personalities at the senior level of the government are much more moderate and inclined towards compromise than their predecessors, a cause for some guarded optimism.”

Familiar faces

However, critics have slammed the new government for having familiar faces.

On Monday, former premiers Ayad Allawi and Maliki, along with parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, became vice presidents.

When CNN asked Zebari about the “same old faces,” he replied: “Yes there are some old faces, but they are not in government business.”

Zebari added: “The idea was to bring key Iraqi leaders and faces together, to give weight to this new government.”

“Having three vice presidents is relatively inconsequential at the end of the day, strategically speaking, since the presidency council, and especially the vice presidents, have little legal authority under the constitution,” Khedery said.

He added: “Nonetheless, Allawi, Maliki and Nujaifi were among the top vote getters in 2010 and 2014, so having them inside the tent may prove unpleasant tactically, but wise strategically.”

However, the key posts of interior and defense ministers are still vacant, which will make it difficult to chart a new strategy against ISIS.

Kirkuk-based analyst Ahmed al-Askari told Al Arabiya News: “Unfortunately... in Iraq faces are repeated in all sects and ethnic groups.”

He added: “The new government is based on ministerial consensus, not a political one based on the demands of the people.”

Askari said he believed that the defense and interior ministries would be managed by proxies, as they were under Maliki.

Demands

On Wednesday, the Sunni Iraqi Forces Alliance refused to accept Hadi al-Ameri, commander of the pro-Iranian Shiite Badr Organization, occupying any position in these two ministries.

Khedery said it would be a “disaster” and a “joke” if Ameri became “the top law-enforcement officer in Iraq.”

He adding that it would be “preferable to have non-partisan moderates, one Shiite and one Sunni.”

Dissatisfied Sunni and Kurdish minorities have reluctantly expressed their support for Abadi.

On Tuesday, the National Iraqi News Agency reported that MP Salem Jumaa of the Kurdistan Alliance said Abadi had requested U.N. intervention to reduce Sunni demands.

“The Iraqi Forces Alliance asked to be given 40 percent of the portfolios in return for participation in the new government, in addition to other demands,” Jumaa said.

Managing the demands of various groups in a country marred by Maliki’s legacy of divisive politics will be a challenge for Abadi.

Khedery said: “The spoilers are still there from all sides: Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis. Whether the nationalist moderates from all three factions can prevail over the polarizing hardliners will be critical to Iraq’s integrity and stability. This is the last chance, and there isn’t much time left.”