Baghdad woke up on 13 October to the sound of Katyusha rockets falling on the Green Zone, the location of the Iraqi parliament and an area where bridges and streets can be cut whenever parliament holds a session.
The session for that day was not an ordinary one, but was one that the Iraqi people have been waiting for since the early general elections hold as a response to the October 2019 protestations, as the parliament was due to elect a new president for the country.
No one has claimed responsibility for the rockets, but Hassan Al-Adhari, who was head of the resigned Sadrist bloc in the parliament, said that followers of the Sadrist Movement led by Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr had not fired rockets at the Green Zone.
“Anyone who uses weapons to obstruct the parliamentary session is loyal to the corrupt and wants to dominate the country and the people,” he said. Almost one hour after the rockets fell, the session began with a quorum. There were 269 MPs from 325 and 20 MPs boycotting the session.
The voting began for the 30 candidates standing for the post of president, all of them except Abdel-Latif Rashid and Barham Salih knowing in advance that they would lose.
About 277 MPs voted through secret ballot in the first round that resulted in a slight advance for Rashid over current President Salih. Both men belong to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) that was supporting Salih. Rashid was announced as an independent.
The second round showed a lead for Rashid, who won 162 votes to 99 in favour and eight invalid votes and was sworn in as the new president of Iraq.
Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani was appointed by the Coordination Framework, the biggest parliamentary bloc after the resignation of the Sadrist Bloc, as the new prime minister and tasked with forming a new government.
The new president is a Kurd, like the previous presidents. While this is not based on the constitution, it has become a norm in Iraq since the formation of the interim government in 2005. The president of the republic is a Kurd, the speaker of the parliament is a Sunni Muslim, and the prime minister is a Shia Muslim.
The new president is 74 years old, was minister of irrigation and water resources from 2006 to 2012, and since then has been a chief adviser to the presidency. The new first lady, Shanaz Ibrahim Ahmed, is the sister of former first lady Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, widow of the late former president Jalal Talbani.
Al-Sudani, 52 years old, will be the first prime minister since April 2003 who has not lived outside of Iraq, or, as was described by Iraqis on social media, “did not come with the American invasion on the roof of a tank.”
He was a member of the Misan provincial council, governor of Misan about 320 km southeast of the capital Baghdad, minister of human rights and labour, and a MP in the last three parliaments.
At a ceremony at the Peace Palace in Baghdad on 17 October to inaugurate the new president, Rashid said that he would make every effort “to protect the constitution and solve existing problems,” adding that “the previous stage was difficult for everyone.”
He expressed his thanks to “the representatives of the Iraqi people for giving me their confidence, and I thank the supreme religious authority”.
“We are undertaking the tasks we have worked for, and we remember the wounded and martyrs of the armed forces.”
Al-Sudani announced that his priorities were electricity, healthcare, municipal services, and combating corruption. He would be “responsible for holding the relevant minister accountable and replacing him in case he fails or commits corruption”.
Although there is a period of 30 days to submit the names of the new cabinet to the parliament, media reports quoted many MPs as saying that Al-Sudani would submit them within the coming couple of weeks or earlier.
“It is the easiest birth of a government in Iraq since 2003,” political analysts said, noting that it was one year and three days from the general elections. Al-Sudani pledged to name ministers who were not only Shias, Sunnis and Kurds, who share the sovereign ministries under the so-called muhasasa, a power-sharing policy, based on the number of their MPs.
Turkmens and Christians will also be represented in the new government.
One outstanding question is whether Sadrists will participate in the new government. “According to many previous statements, the Sadrists are refusing to participate in the government,” Mujashaa Al-Tamini, a political analyst, told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that Salih Mohamed Al-Iraqi, described as a minister of Sadrist leader Muqtada Al-Sadr, had said that the Sadrists would not participate in the Al-Sudani government.
He denied reports alleging that there are secret negotiations with the Sadrists regarding the new government.
While most Iraqis are hoping that the government will draw up the budget for the coming year as soon as possible, the new government has found itself facing allegations of corruption even before the appointment of ministers.
In a deal described by different Iraqi media networks as the “theft of the century,” Iraq’s oil minister and former acting finance minister Ihsan Abdel-Jabbar revealed last Saturday that a group had taken 3.7 trillion Iraqi dinars, almost $2.5 billion, from the National Tax Authority account in the Iraqi Rafidain Bank.
In response, Al-Sudani vowed that “we will not allow the money of the Iraqis to be stolen, as happened with the funds of the Tax Authority in the Rafidain Bank.”
“The Al-Sudani government will be given confidence because it has been approved internally and externally,” Al-Tamimi told the Weekly. “Iraq is a card that can be played by Iran and America, and then by Turkey and the other Arab countries.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.