The call by the US Secretary of State Mark Pompeo in April 2020 to hold a constructive strategic dialogue with Iraq in June 2020 with the aim of discussing the future of the US presence in Iraq has revived talk about the future of Iran in that country, especially that the Iranian file will be one of the main files of the strategic dialogue between Washington and Baghdad.
On 22 April 2020, former Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi signed a decision to dissociate the Holy Shrines factions from the Popular Mobilization Commission (PMC, al-Hashed al-Shaabi) and link them administratively and operationally to the Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces, that is the Prime Minister himself. With this decision, the conflict between the pro-Iran so-called “loyalist” factions and the factions associated with the religious authority in Najaf would have reached an important stage that could lead to rifts in the PMC.
On 21 July 2020, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi paid a visit to Iran. This was his first external visit after he took office. It also came after he delayed a scheduled visit to Saudi Arabia due to the hospitalization of the Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz. Kadhimi’s visit to Tehran comes in the context of an Iraqi political dynamism that is different from before. This dynamism focuses on establishing Iraqi sovereignty and demanding that Iran control its loyal factions in Iraq. In return, Iraq would continue to play the role of Iran’s economic lungs.
Once again, the controversy returns in the Iraqi Sunni community regarding the religious authorities. This time the cause is the replacement of the President of the Sunni Endowment Office (or Diwan, SEO) and the attempt to designate a new name to run the Sect’s endowments and associated investment projects. The disagreement between the relevant parties reflects the ongoing conflict between the secular and Brotherhood Sunni powers in Iraq.
Mustafa al-Kadhimi managed to form the new Iraqi government after a seven-month political crisis that broke out after the outbreak of the protests against the government of Adel Abdul-Mahdi who resigned under street pressure. Al-Kadhimi faces a number of difficult political, economic and security challenges and, most importantly, managing the crisis of US-Iranian tension in the country. So, will the Kadhimi government succeed in facing those challenges?
Following the elapse on 19 March 2020 of the statutory period given to the political blocs to nominate a prime minister and Iraq’s entry into a stage of constitutional vacuum, President Barham Saleh designated former Najaf governor and member of the Nasr Alliance Adnan al-Zurfi to form the provisional government. This was soon strongly rejected by some parties close to Teheran, in spite of their previous participation in the consultations of the seven-member committee in which the main parliamentary blocs were represented. This raises questions about the possible failure of the prime minister-designate to obtain Parliament’s confidence, similar to the previous designate Mohammed Allawi.
This paper sheds light on the behind-the-scenes circumstances of the designation of al-Zurfi, the positions of political blocs vis-à-vis his designation, and the chances of success of his designation.
Iraq today finds itself at a crossroads, beset by challenges and life-and-death decisions. The public protests that erupted in early October 2019 revealed a number of deep structural crises in the country, growing public resentment vis-à-vis the political elite, and an expanding rift between these political forces and the Iraqi street. They have ignited a conflict that has opened the door to all manner of possible future scenarios for the nation.
Following the defeat of ISIS in late 2017, Iraq has entered a new era. A number of key internal and external factors will determine Iraq’s future in this new epoch and will have a significant bearing on the security and stability of the entire region.
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