Monday, May 11, 2020

Can Iraq’s New PM Maneuver The System Or Have To Follow It?


On May 7 the former head of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service Mustafa al-Kazemi had his government approved by parliament. The ruling parties argued over his appointees making him change them several times, but the majority were finally confirmed. His cabinet is different from many of the previous ones with most of them being technocrats. The question now is how much can he get done within the restraints of Iraq’s political system.

Out of 22 ministries in Kazemi’s government 15 were approved by parliament. 5 nominees for Trade, Justice, Culture, Agricultural and Migration were rejected, while Oil and Foreign Affairs were to be decided later. While the political parties got to pick the ministers they were largely non-partisan. Defense Minister Juma Enad has a degree in military science, was an officer in Saddam’s army, and was a commander in the war against the Islamic State. Interior Minister Othman Ghanimi has a degree in military science as well and helped rebuild the Iraqi army after 2003. Finance Minister Ali Allawi is the former Trade, Defense and Finance Ministers, worked at the World Bank, and is an academic. Planning Minister Khalid Najim was the head of Anbar University. Health Minister Dr. Hassan Mohammed has a degree in pharmacology and served in several Baghdad hospitals. Electricity Minister Majid Mahdi Hantosh has a degree in engineering and was the director general in several different departments of the Electricity Ministry. Youth Minister Adnan Dirjal coached the Iraqi national soccer team under Saddam and then went on to head several other teams in Iraq and the region. Industry Minister Manhal Aziz has a degree in physics and worked in the private sector. Communications Minister Arkan Shihab was the director general of projects and planning in the Communications Ministry. The Labor Minister Adil Hashush worked in the disabilities department at the Labor Ministry. Education Minister Ali Hamid has a degree in education and was the director general in the Education Ministry. Housing Minister Nazanin Mohammed was the Municipalities Minister in the Kurdistan Regional Government. Higher Education Minister Nabil Abd al-Sahib has a degree in mechanical engineering and was the president of the Dhi Qar and Nahrain Universities. Water Minister Mehdi Rashid has a degree in water resources and was the general manager of Iraqi dams and held other offices in the Water Ministry. Finally, Transportation Minister Nasir Hussein has a degree in aeronautical sciences and was the director general of the Civil Aviation Authority. Kazemi’s predecessor Premier Adil Abdul Mahdi was able to appoint some technocrats as well to his cabinet, but this is far more extensive. This marks a move away from political appointees who usually had no experience in the ministries they would run. At the same time since many of Kazemi’s cabinet come from within those same ministries they could be intimately involved with all of the politics and corruption that take place within them.

The main similarity between Kazemi and Abdul Mahdi is that neither had a political base. Abdul Mahdi left the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and was an independent when he was chosen as premier. Likewise, Kazemi has no political affiliation and was the intelligence head. Abdul Mahdi was severely hampered by not having a party to fall back upon. Iraq is run by elites that control the state and its assets. If they oppose a prime minister, they can block his agenda. Kazemi for instance said he wants to fight corruption which every incoming Iraqi leader always says. Since the ruling parties use graft and bribes to rule directly challenging them is usually never even attempted. Just as important the new PM is coming into office as the economy collapses under the dual shocks of the coronavirus and an oil shock. Can he reform spending the majority of which goes to government salaries and pensions and start moving Iraq away from oil dependency? Again, both of these run up against the establishment that use the public sector in patronage networks to maintain support and have shown no serious interest in diversifying the economy because they benefit from oil. Cutting pay for public employees may under an austerity program may also turn a sizeable portion of the public against the new administration. The question comes down to can Kazemi work the system and find support in the country to do what he wants or will he simply have to follow the whims of the ruling parties and maintain the status quo?


Aldroubi, Mina, “Iraq PM-designate’s Mustafa Al Kadhimi’s ambitious plans may not win him support, experts say,” The National, 4/30/20
- “With key posts vacant, Iraq prime minister pushes on with incomplete government,” The National, 5/7/20

- “UPDATE: No oil minister yet in Mustafa Kadhimi’s new government,” 5/7/20

- “Meet Iraq’s new Cabinet,” Al Monitor, 5/8/20

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