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Iraq on verge of new political crisis as Shia groups reluctantly back new PM-designate

Shia parties are lukewarm in their backing of Mustafa Kazemi [Twitter]

Date of publication: 6 April, 2020

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Iraqi Shia political groups have conditionally agreed to appoint Mustafa Kazemi, the country’s head of intelligence, as prime minister after rejecting recently designated Prime Minister Adnan Zurfi

Iraq appears to be on the brink of a new political crisis as the main Iraqi Shia political blocs gave very hesitant and lukewarm backing to a plan that would appoint a new Prime Minister-designate, Mustafa Kazemi, to replace current Prime Minister-designate Adnan Zurfi.

Zurfi was named by President Barham Salih as Iraq’s Prime Minister-designate on March 17. However, his nomination was rejected by the country’s main Shia parties, who accused him of being too pro-American. He had previously been governor of the holy city of Najaf and had been appointed to that role by Paul Bremer, the head of the US’s occupation administration of Iraq, in 2004.

Mustafa Kazemi is currently head of Iraqi intelligence. Difficult negotiations between Iraqi Shia party took place until a late hour of Sunday night regarding his appointment, informed sources told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service.

While the Fatah Coalition, the political wing of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militia grouping, said they supported his appointment, the Hezbollah Brigades - whose leader was killed in the same US airstrike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in January – strongly opposed Kazemi’s nomination.

Two other Shia blocs gave Kazemi very reluctant backing. The State of Law coalition, led by controversial former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and the Alliance Towards Reform, led by mercurial cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, said that they would accept Kazemi’s nomination as long as all other Iraqi Shia parties accepted.

The Victory Alliance, led by former Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, who resigned last year following widespread and ongoing anti-corruption protests, did not take part in the meeting.

Kazemi himself set conditions for accepting the premiership, according to the sources. These included unanimous approval from all Iraqi Shia parties and a promise that they would not interfere in the formation and programme of his government.

Read also: Iraq still in chaos 17 years after US invasion

“Kazemi is worried that his nomination is just a political game to get rid of Zurfi and then appoint yet another candidate, while preserving Abdel Mahdi’s government”, the anonymous sources told The New Arab’s Arabic-sister site.

The Hezbollah Brigades have reportedly accused Kazemi of being close to the US, like Zurfi, and being involved in the airstrike which killed their leader, Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandes along with General Soleimani.

Some Iraqi observers blamed foreign countries for the debacle around Zurfi’s appointment and his replacement by Kazemi.

Dissident parliamentarian Kazem Al-Saiadi, a former member of the State of Law coalition, said that “the Shia political blocs are led by interests and embassies,” in a probable reference to Iran, adding that “Shia leaders don’t want to appoint a strong candidate”.

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