Mustafa al Kazimi’s chances of staying in power in a politically fractured country appear to be slim.

Under intense protests and growing economic crisis, Iraq has finally found a new prime minister, Mustafa al Kazimi, a Shia political figure, who led the Iraqi National Intelligence Service until last month, when he was designated the top government post. 

Kazimi, a 53-year-old former journalist, is known to be a pragmatist, a quality thought to have put him in this position to help bring together opposing sides in the politically fractured country. 

On Wednesday, during a parliamentary session, Kazimi pledged that he "will provide solutions, not add to the crises”.

But Mehmet Bulovali, an Iraqi Kurdish political analyst, who served as an advisor to Iraq's former vice president Tariq al Hashimi, finds him overly optimistic. 

“He can not resolve anything in Iraq,” Bulovali told TRT World, saying that he might not last in the top office even until the end of the year. 

Kazimi appears to have secured both American and Iranian support, a must for a country like Iraq, a Shia-majority state, which has heavily suffered since the 2003 American invasion. 

“If a political system is locked, you will always find something unusual happening,” Bulovali says, referring to Kazimi nomination to the Iraqi premiership. 

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi hands over to new Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazimi in Baghdad, Iraq, May 7, 2020.
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi hands over to new Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazimi in Baghdad, Iraq, May 7, 2020. (Credit: Iraqi Parliament Media Office / Reuters)

When options run out

“Sometimes you see fait accomplis in politics and his ascendance to the prime ministership appears to be one of them,” Bulovali says, saying that until the last minute, there were tough negotiations and at some point he even considered rejecting the offer for the premiership. 

According to Bulovali, Kazimi has been accepted by most of the Iraqi political factions because there was no other option to unlock the political system. “But none of them are content with him at the same time.”

“He has to deal with so many problems, which have been piled up for years. Forget him, no one else could also resolve those problems,” Bulovali says, pointing out the country’s internal and external tensions ranging from widespread protests, diminishing oil prices to escalating tensions in the Middle East between Iran and the US, the two countries with an outsized influence over Iraq. 

The country’s national economy has been heavily dependent on global oil prices, covering 90 percent of government revenues. In the wake of the deadly pandemic and slump in oil markets, Baghdad has recently been struggling to pay the salaries of public servants. 

Iraq might also see nearly a 10 percent decrease in its gross domestic product (GDP), which would be the worst economic outlook since 2003, according to World Bank estimates. 

Kazimi also needs to address the angry Iraqi public, which is fed up with endemic corruption and dysfunctional government services, protesting against the state’s power holders since December and forcing the previous prime minister to resign. 

Mourners carry the coffin of an Iraqi demonstrator, who was killed during ongoing anti-government protests in Basra, Iraq May 11, 2020.
Mourners carry the coffin of an Iraqi demonstrator, who was killed during ongoing anti-government protests in Basra, Iraq May 11, 2020. (Reuters)

During the bloody protests, which have also targeted the undue influence of Tehran over Baghdad, hundreds of demonstrators were killed by security forces and armed loyalists. 

Kazimi has promised early elections and a sincere investigation into the killings of protesters. 

Key players in Kazimi’s rise

Barham Salih, Iraq’s Kurdish-origin president, is the main figure to pave the way for Kazimi’s ascendancy to power, Bulovali says. 

Salih assigned Kazimi to form the government after the two previous candidates, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi and Adnan al Zurfi could not succeed in doing so. 

“Back in the day, Kazimi was working as an editor in a magazine published in Suleymaniye [which is a Kurdish-majority city in northern Iraq], as Salih was leading Kurdish regional government. They have been very close to each other since then,” Bulovali remembers. 

“Both of them love to be flamboyant,” Bulovali says, referring to their promises to fight corruption as empty-handed. 

“Under immense American pressure, Salih, an ally of Washington, was seeking to find a political puppet, which has turned out to be Kazimi,” Bulovali views. 

Washington wants to sit down with a working government to negotiate a strategic cooperation agreement and as a result, they need a friendly government in Baghdad, according to Bulovali. 

Iran’s moderate foreign ministry forces also support Kazimi in order to open up the political system while Tehran’s radical Revolutionary Guards oppose the move, according to Bulovali, referring to a power struggle between the two Iranian political factions. 

“The Revolutionary Guards will eventually make him fall from power,” Bulovali predicts. 

Iranian rials are seen at a currency exchange shop in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, Iraq September 22, 2019.
Iranian rials are seen at a currency exchange shop in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, Iraq September 22, 2019. (Alaa Al-Marjani / Reuters Archive)

Kurdish plans

Iraqi Kurds, who lead an autonomous regional government in the northern part of the country, also play hardball as Salih, a top Kurdish leader, wants to use the Kazimi government to facilitate a political process in which Kurds could gain some key cabinet posts such as the finance and foreign ministries. 

“Iraqi Kurds want to install Fuad Hussein, the current finance minister, as the country’s foreign minister,” Bulovali says. 

Hussein was a former chief of staff of Massoud Barzani, who is the former Kurdish regional government president and the leader of Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). 

“Hussein will be the foreign minister with the help of Kazimi, who will also support designs for a more powerful regional government in northern Iraq,” Bulovali predicts. 

“Kazimi’s future strategic cooperation agreement with the US will ultimately be crucial for the future stability and security of the Kurdish region. As a result, Kurds strongly support Kazimi,” Bulovali concludes.  

Source: TRT World