IRAQ. Baghdad: Iraq’s parliament has elected a new President, the Kurdish politician Abdul Latif Rashid, who immediately invited Mohammed Shia al-Sudani to become prime minister and form a government, ending a year of political impasse after a national election in October 2021.
Although the presidential role, traditionally occupied by a Kurd, is primarily a ceremonial one, Rashid’s election is the preliminary step towards forming a new government that will reinstall peace and prosperity across the country, which many politicians have failed to do.
Rashid, 78, was the Iraqi Minister of Water Resources from 2003 to 2010. The British-educated engineer won against the former president, Barham Salih, who was running for a second term.
Upon his election, he immediately invited al-Sudani, a nominee of the largest parliamentary bloc called the Coordination Framework, an alliance of Iran-aligned factions, to form a government.
52-year-old Sudani previously served as Iraq’s human rights minister and minister of labour and social affairs.
Sudan has 30 days to form a cabinet and present it to the Parliament for approval.
The U.S. has welcomed the election of a new leader as an end to the political unrest and turmoil that the country has witnessed for a long time.
“The United States urges all parties to refrain from violence and to resolve differences amicably and peacefully through the political process,” officials said.
Thursday’s vote was the fourth attempt to elect a president this year. It took place shortly after nine rockets landed on Thursday around the Iraqi capital’s Green Zone, according to a military statement.
At least ten people, including members of the security forces, were injured in the attack, according to security and medical sources.
Thursday’s parliament session comes a year after an election in which the populist Shia Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was the biggest winner but failed to rally support and form a government.
Sadr withdrew his 73 lawmakers and announced his resignation from politics in August, mitigating the worst violence in Baghdad in years.His loyalists stormed a government palace and fought rival Shia groups, most of them backed by Iran and armed divisions.
Sadr reigns popularly in Iraq and has a notorious track record of being a rebel in society: fighting US forces, quitting cabinets, and protesting against governments.
On Thursday, security personnel tightened surveillance in the area, closed off bridges and squares, and erected walls across some bridges leading to the fortified Green Zone.
“Now Iran-backed groups are dominating the parliament; they have a friendly judiciary; they have dominated the executive [authority]… “They will need to benefit from it, and one way to benefit from it is to do it gradually or suddenly and try to marginalise or expel pro-Sadrists from state apparatuses,” said Hamdi Malik, a Washington Institute expert on Iraq’s Shia militias, adding that the approach will determine how Sadr reacts.
To maintain proper representation and a power-sharing hierarchy, Iraq’s president is a Kurd, its prime minister a Shia, and its parliament speaker a Sunni.
Meanwhile, the presidency was fiercely contested between Iraqi Kurdistan’s two main parties: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which nominated Rashid, and its traditional rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which nominated Salih.
“The relationship between the PUK and the KDP is at its lowest,” said Zmkan Ali Saleem, assistant professor of political science at Sulaimani University.
Saleem, however, predicted the tension would not lead to a break in the relationship and things would eventually die down, as Rashid is a PUK member and his wife is a powerful figure in the party.