BAGHDAD – Adil Abd al-Mahdi, Iraq’s former oil minister, was named prime minister designate on Tuesday, hours after Barham Salih, was elected president of Iraq in a political standoff.
Their victories give momentum to a government-formation process that had been moving slowly since national elections on May 12.
Abd al-Mahdi now has 30 days to form a Cabinet – a challenge of awarding key posts to enough different power brokers that they will deliver the votes needed to confirm the new prime minister and his government.
Iraqi legislators had already taken a major first step toward government formation on Sept. 15, by electing a speaker of Parliament, Muhammed al-Halbusi, the former governor of Anbar province.
Post-2003 Iraqi governments have split the three top government jobs between Shia Arab, Kurd, and Sunni Arab.
On Tuesday, Halbusi presided over a session to decide the presidency, which has been held by Kurdish leaders since 2005. Two front-runners had emerged from the autonomous Kurdistan region’s dominant political parties: Salih, who represents the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and Fuad Hussein, of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
The two rival parties, which have typically tried to present a united front in Baghdad, engaged in difficult negotiations Monday and Tuesday, with an apparent goal of presenting a single Kurdish nominee.
When those talks failed to produce an agreement, Parliament conducted two rounds of voting, with non-Kurdish parties effectively deciding the contest. In the second round, Salih, the former Kurdistan prime minister and deputy Iraqi prime minister, broke the two-thirds threshold required to be elected president.
Under the Iraqi Constitution, the president has 15 days to name a prime minister designate, but Salih nominated Abd al-Mahdi within hours – a sign of the extensive groundwork Salih has laid in recent weeks as he solicited support from various political blocs.
Abd al-Mahdi has widespread appeal among Iraq’s political class because he is both a seasoned insider and he has the veneer of independence, having recently left the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) party, which splintered following the departure of its figurehead, Ammar al-Hakim.
During his tenure leading the Oil Ministry, in the first two years of outgoing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s administration, Abd al-Mahdi showed a politician’s savvy if not a technocrat’s command of the industry.
Abd al-Mahdi negotiated a deal with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Minister of Natural Resources Ashti Hawrami to send oil from the federally run North Oil Company (NOC) through the KRG-controlled export pipeline to Turkey, enabling Iraq to monetize billions of dollars’ worth of oil that would have otherwise been shut in.
That deal also disintegrated under Abd al-Mahdi’s tenure, as the two sides disagreed about how to divvy up pipeline flows and how much money Baghdad ought to send in monthly budget transfers.
Abd al-Mahdi resigned from the ministry in March 2016, amidst an initiative by Abadi to replace his Cabinet with a slate of technocrats. Abd al-Mahdi’s eventual replacement, Jabbar al-Luiebi, is an industry veteran who, like Abd al-Mahdi, had strong ties to Hakim.
Before serving as oil minister, Abd al-Mahdi was one of Iraq’s vice presidents for six years and, before that, minister of finance for two.
Source: Office of Adil Abd al-Mahdi