Iraq parliament approves PM Kadhimi’s new cabinet after months of deadlock

Iraqi lawmakers approved a new government on Wednesday after six months without parties arguing until the last minute over backstage cabinet seats.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraqi intelligence chief and former journalist, will lead the new government. However, he will begin his mandate without a full cabinet, after the rejection of several ministerial candidates.

Former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who led an interim government, resigned last year as thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets, demanding jobs and the departure of the Iraqi ruling elite.

They accuse the political class which took over after the 2003 American invasion which overthrew Saddam Hussein from the corruption which led the country to dysfunction and economic ruin.

The battle over government portfolios since Abdul Mahdi’s resignation in November has prevented two previous candidates for Prime Minister from forming a cabinet.

Kadhimi’s candidates for cabinet posts, notably in the areas of interior, defense, finance and electricity, were voted by the majority of legislators present.

The vote on the oil and foreign ministries was delayed because the parties did not agree on the candidates. They rejected the new prime minister’s choices for justice, agriculture and trade.

“Security, stability and the flourishing of Iraq are our path,” Kadhimi wrote on his Twitter account after Parliament voted for his cabinet.

He said he would make the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, in which Iraq suffered more than 2,000 cases and more than 100 deaths, a priority and should be accountable to those who killed protesters during the previous months of anti-government unrest.

Iraqi officials say Kadhimi is acceptable to the United States and Iran, whose battle for influence over Iraq turned into open confrontation last year.

Multiple challenges

The United States killed Iranian military mastermind Qassem Soleimani and his close ally, Iraqi paramilitary leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a drone strike near Baghdad International Airport in January.

Iran responded with its very first direct missile attack on US forces at a base in western Iraq several days later, but did not kill anyone.

Washington accuses Tehran-backed paramilitary groups of conducting a series of rocket attacks on other bases in recent months, one of which has killed three soldiers from the U.S.-based military coalition in Iraq.

Rockets have been fired regularly near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. None of the rocket attacks have been claimed by known Iranian-backed groups.

The Kadhimi government is facing an impending economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has driven down prices for oil – Iraq’s main source of income.

He is also facing a growing Islamic State insurgency as the extremist group intensifies attacks on government troops in hiding places in remote areas of northern Iraq.

Iraq risks being caught in a regional conflagration between Washington and Tehran, while the militias swear to take revenge on the murder of Soleimani and Muhandis and President Donald Trump continues his bellicose rhetoric against Iran.