Iraq elects Kurd as president, designates new prime minister

Iraq elects Kurdish moderate president, designates new prime minister
3 min read
02 October, 2018
Barham Saleh, a 58-year-old moderate, has served both as Iraqi deputy premier and Kurdish prime minister.
The role of Iraqi president has been reserved for the Kurds since 2005. [Getty]
Moderate Kurdish candidate Barham Saleh swept to the post of president of Iraq on Tuesday evening in a parliamentary vote pitting Kurdish heavyweights against each other for the first time.

Saleh routed his main rival Fuad Hussein with 219 votes to 22, dealing a blow to Hussein's main backer, former Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani who was the architect of an ill-fated 2017 independence referendum.

Saleh immediately named Adel Abdul Mahdi prime minister-designate, ending months of deadlock after an inconclusive national election in May.

Mahdi becomes the first elected prime minister in post-Saddam Iraq not to hail from the Shia Islamist Dawa party.

He was nominated by two rival blocs, one led by Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sad and outgoing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

The other is led by Iran-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri and former premier Nuri al-Maliki.

Mahdi now has 30 days to form a cabinet and present it to parliament for approval.

Tuesday's poll follows a weekend parliamentary election in the Kurdish autonomous region, mired in economic crisis and still in shock from the fallout of the September 2017 plebiscite which sparked a punishing response from Baghdad.

The largely ceremonial role of president has been reserved for the Kurds since Iraq's first multi-party elections in 2005, two years after the US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Under a tacit accord between the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the PUK would hold the federal presidency and the KDP the post of Iraqi Kurdistan's president.

But the Iraqi Kurdish presidency has been left vacant since KDP leader Massud Barzani resigned at the end of his mandate following the September 2017 referendum that he championed.

The vote for an Iraqi president was scheduled for Monday before being postponed due to the lack of a quorum. 

In a first round of polling Tuesday, neither Saleh nor Hussein won the two-thirds vote necessary to win outright, forcing a second round.

Saleh, a 58-year-old moderate, has served both as Iraqi deputy premier and Kurdish prime minister.

He was part of an interim authority put in place by the United States following the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam.

He later became deputy prime minister under Nuri al-Maliki then returned to the Kurdish regional capital Erbil in 2009 to become head of the Kurdistan government.

His rival for the post of president was the Hussein, a 72-year-old former chief of staff for Barzani and veteran of the opposition to Saddam.

Iraq's parliament has chosen a speaker of the house but the post of prime minister has yet to be decided, more than four months after legislative elections.

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