After seven months of some of the worst political unrest in Iraq since 2003, the Iraqi Parliament confirmed the cabinet for Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. Kadhimi faces the challenge of responding to popular unrest demanding an end to corruption and bad governance and the reform of the electoral system. The new PM must form a cabinet while facing down the meddling of political parties as well as Iran and others. Kadhimi is under the pressure of a polarized nation split between disillusioned Iraqi youth and political parties vying to preserve their power within the government. The last two PM-designates failed to set up a government.
Kadhimi must balance Baghdad’s relations with an aggrieved Tehran and an administration in Washington determined to defend its interests in Iraq. With Iran, Baghdad has vital and unchallengeable economic, societal and religious ties, while Washington is Iraq’s strongest Western ally and the architect of its current political (dis)order.
Internally, resurgent Islamic State terrorism threatens Iraq while paramilitary groups assert increased power. Rising youth unemployment, a budget unable to meet the minimum requirements the Iraqi State (propelled in part by the collapse of oil prices) compounds the rising tension between a disenchanted society and ineffectual governments since 2003.
Though the challenges are not new, Kadhimi faces a uniquely difficult task to restore the stability of the country. If he does form a government, protestors will expect the incoming PM to immediately to change the electoral system and call early parliamentary elections to form a new government.
What are the priorities of the incoming government led by Kadhimi? Will ministers be chosen according to sect, ethnicity and political affiliation as witnessed under previous cabinets or based on their qualifications? Will the new government be a transitional body awaiting early elections or a permanent fixture until Iraq’s next scheduled election in 2022? Can Kadhimi balance relations with both Tehran and Washington that advance Iraq’s own interests? What is the status of U.S. presence in Iraq under Kadhimi’s government? Will early elections remain a popular demand, and can Kadhimi deliver them?
Ambassador Patrick Theros (moderator), Dr. Randa Slim, Dr. C. Anthony Pfaff, and Ms. Maysoon Al-Damluji.
Ambassador Patrick Theros (moderator)
Strategic Advisor, Gulf International Forum
Ambassador Theros has held such positions as Political Advisor to the Commander in Chief, Central Command; Deputy Chief of Mission and Political officer in Amman; Charge D’affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission in Abu Dhabi; Economic Counselor in Damascus; and U.S. Ambassador to the State of Qatar. In a career spanning almost 36 years, he also has served in diplomatic positions in Beirut, Managua, Dharan and Abu Dhabi, as well as in the Department of State. During that period, he earned four Superior Honor Awards. After retirement Ambassador Theros served as President of the U.S. Qatar Business Council in 2000-2017.
Ms. Maysoon Al-Damluji
Adviser of Culture and Reconstruction for The President of the Republic of Iraq Barham Saleh
Ms. Al-Damluji currently serves as Adviser of Culture and Reconstruction for Iraq’s President Barham Saleh. She had previously served as Deputy Minister of Culture (2003- 2006) in Iraq. She also was a Liberal Member of the Iraqi Parliament for three terms (2006- 2018), and Chaired the Parliamentary Committee for Culture and Media. Her main focus is on cultural issues and women’s rights in Iraq.
Dr. Randa Slim
Senior Fellow and Director of Conflict Resolution and Track II Dialogues Program, Middle East Institute
Randa Slim is the Director of the Conflict Resolution and Track II Dialogues Program at the Middle East Institute and a non-resident fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced and International Studies (SAIS) Foreign Policy Institute. A former vice president of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue, Slim has been a senior program advisor at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a guest scholar at the United States Institute of Peace, a program director at Resolve, Inc, and a program officer at the Kettering Foundation. A long-term practitioner of Track II dialogue and peace-building processes in the Middle East and Central Asia, she is the author of several studies, book chapters, and articles on conflict management, post-conflict peace-building, and Middle East politics.
Dr. C. Anthony Pfaff
Nonresident Senior Fellow, The Atlantic Council