Note: Rusty on everything that’s going on in Iraq? We recommend reading this blog.
If you’ve been following the news today, you know that Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, announced his resignation. This comes as no surprise to many, who have been calling for his resignation for weeks in the face of the stellar rise of the radical Islamic State and his failure to quell the violence. His replacement, chosen by Maliki’s Dawa Party, is Haider al-Abadi, a self-described moderate who has risen to prominence,in part, by touting his desire to unify Iraq’s hugely-divided faiths and Islamic sects.
Al-Abadi will certainly have a gargantuan task on his hands as soon as he assumes office, as IS has seized huge portions of territory in Iraq’s north and west, as well as a large portion of Syria. On top of that, he’ll be tackling the problem with a weakened and under-manned army and a divided government still bitter from the division brought about by al-Maliki’s tenure.
Iraqi President Fuad Masum officially nominated al-Abadi to assume the role of prime minister on Monday. While many hoped this would lead to a peaceful transfer of power, as al-Maliki had grown isolated to the point of political impotence, al-Maliki returned fire by threatening to sue the president for “committing a clear constitutional violation for the sake of political calculations and… giving priority to the interests of some groups at the expense of the higher interests of the Iraqi people.”
Despite its reception by Al-Maliki, al-Abadi’s nomination was received incredibly positively by a range of Iraqi political groups — including Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites — and was almost immediately endorsed by Iran, which continues to wield huge influence in Iraqi politics. The United States also almost immediately recognized his capacity as prime minister. Vice President Joe Biden called al-Abadi on Monday “to express the United States’ full support for his role as guarantor of the Iraqi Constitution” and referred to him by his new title.
Given the pressure, al-Maliki officially announced his resignation on Thursday.
Prior comments by al-Abadi make onlookers optimistic about his ability to unify the government. In late June, he told the Huffington Post that Iraq would “have to be careful not to become involved in a sectarian war,” and that “Shias are not against Sunnis and Sunnis are not against Shias.”
This is consistent with comments he made on the phone call with Biden, in which he “expressed his intent to move expeditiously to form a broad-based, inclusive government capable of countering the threat of the Islamic State … and building a better future for Iraqis from all communities.”
Previously an engineer, al-Abadi lived in London until 2003. After attending college in Manchester, he voluntarily exiled himself from the country until the fall of Saddam Hussein. Upon returning, he immediately involved himself in politics. He was first elected to parliament in 2005 and his name was circulated as a possible candidate for prime minister as early as the formation of the Iraqi government in 2006, when al-Maliki was first chosen.