With key posts vacant, Iraq prime minister pushes on with incomplete government

(The National) Iraq’s new prime minister may have secured the backing of parliament but the challenge of forming his government is not over with the key posts of oil and foreign minister still vacant after MPs vetoed his nominees.

Parliament may have approved the new government headed by Mustafa Al Kadhimi early on Thursday morning but there were last-minute changes to the cabinet line-up and five positions remain empty. The changes were an attempt to placate the country’s divided political factions and secure the vote before Mr Al Kadhimi’s mandate expired later this week.

The former intelligence chief was nominated by President Barham Salih in early April and is the third man asked to try and replace former premier Adel Abdel Mahdi who stood down late last year in the face of bloody nationwide demonstrations against corruption, mismanagement and unemployment.

Fifteen of Mr Al Kadhimi’s proposed ministers passed the vote out of a prospective 22-seat cabinet. Five names, however, did not make it.

The most prominent positions that MPs rejected were the Oil and Foreign Ministries, which remain vacant until further negotiations can shortlist ministers.

The recent plummeting global oil price has blown a hole in the state budget at a time when Iraq faces economic crisis despite vast petrochemical reserves. Negotiations between Opec and other major oil and gas suppliers have formed an agreement, but more talks are still likely. It is unclear what the impact will be for Iraq without a minister to lead the country’s position.

Mr Al Kadhimi’s government program vowed to address the “consequences of the current economic crisis caused by the decline in oil prices.”

The issue of naming a foreign minister lies with another crisis that Iraq finds in caught in – the ongoing tensions between Iran and the US.

Since the US invasion of 2003, Iraqi politicians have had the unenvious task of balancing relations with Washington and neighbouring Tehran.

Iran has deep economic and religious ties with Iraq but is under sweeping sanctions imposed by US President Donald Trump.

But tensions between the two states heightened in recent months after the US killed top Iranian general Qassem Suleimani near Baghdad’s airport in early January.

It triggering a series of tit-for-tat attacks between the two in Iraq.

Mr Al Kadhimi’s vote of confidence on Thursday morning was in response to weeks of political lobbying by all sides on the deeply divided political parties in parliament – including those with close ties to Iran who had been wary of the new prime minister’s ties to the United States.

Both the US and Iran welcomed the formation of Iraq’s new government for ending months of political instability.

In a phone call with Mr Al Kadhimi, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated him on taking office and discussed “working together to provide the Iraqi people the prosperity and security they deserve,” the State Department said in a statement.

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