BAGHDAD—Iraqi lawmakers approved a new government on May 7 after six months without one as parties squabbled until the last minute over Cabinet seats in backroom deals.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq‘s intelligence chief and a former journalist, will head the new government. He will begin his term without a full Cabinet, however, after several ministerial candidates were rejected.
It remains unclear who replace him as head of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed Kadhimi and his new government in a call, the U.S. State Department said in a statement.
It also said Washington would renew for 120 days a waiver allowing Iraq to import electricity from Iran “to help provide the right conditions for success” of the new government. The State Department also said it was looking forward to the upcoming U.S.-Iraq strategic dialogue to work “together to provide the Iraqi people the prosperity and security they deserve.”
Former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who had been leading a caretaker government, resigned last year as anti-government protesters took to the streets in their thousands, demanding jobs and the departure of foreign influence, such as from the Iranian regime, of Iraq‘s ruling elite.
They accuse the political class, which took over after the chaos of the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, of corruption that has driven the country into dysfunction and economic ruin.
The battle over government portfolios since Abdul Mahdi’s resignation in November 2019 prevented two previous nominees for prime minister from forming a Cabinet.
Kadhimi’s candidates for Cabinet posts including interior, defense, finance, and electricity passed with votes from a majority of lawmakers present.
Voting on the oil and foreign ministries was delayed as the parties failed to agree on candidates. They rejected the incoming premier’s picks for justice, agriculture, and trade.
“The security, stability and blossoming of Iraq is our path,” Kadhimi wrote on his Twitter account after parliament voted for his Cabinet.
He said he would make tackling the coronavirus pandemic, of which Iraq has suffered more than 2,000 cases and more than 100 deaths, a priority and hold to account those who had killed protesters in previous months of anti-government unrest.
Iraqi officials say Kadhimi is acceptable to both the United States and Iran, whose battle for influence over Iraq has boiled into open confrontation in the past year.
The United States killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his close ally Iraqi paramilitary leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, backed by Tehran, in a drone strike near Baghdad International Airport in January, in response to an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad by Iran-backed militias.
Rockets have regularly been fired near the U.S. embassy and international Green Zone in Baghdad, with the latest attack reported on May 6. None of the rocket attacks have been claimed by known Iran-backed groups.
3 Katyusha rockets were launched toward the military part of Baghdad International airport, no casualties, the prison guards cafeteria was hit and a water tanker was damaged. pic.twitter.com/bTUDR5Oblq
— Steven Nabil (@thestevennabil) May 6, 2020
Kadhimi’s government must deal with an impending economic crisis precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused the prices of oil—Iraq‘s principal source of revenue—to plummet.
It also faces a growing ISIS insurgency as the Islamic extremist group steps up attacks on government troops from hideouts in remote areas of northern Iraq.
By Ahmed Rasheed and John Davison. Epoch Times staff contributed to this report.