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.