The new Iraqi government is unlikely to resolve the crises

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Baghdad (AFP) – Iraq’s parliament has approved Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani’s government after more than a year of political paralysis, but the war-torn country is far from reaching safe shores.

Sudani now faces the gargantuan task of delivering on his promises to fight corruption and provide job opportunities for the country’s disaffected youth, while grappling with an unpredictable political adversary.

In a bid to dispel criticism of his pro-Iranian political supporters in parliament, he also vowed not to “adopt the polarized politics” of the past which saw Iraq divided between fiercely rival camps.

But oil-rich Iraq has for years suffered from endemic corruption preventing the proper distribution of funds, and analysts do not foresee an imminent end to the country’s protracted crises.

Is anything going to change?

Sudani and his 21-member cabinet won the confidence of lawmakers on Thursday, in a vote that came more than a year after the country’s last parliamentary elections.

The key step was hailed by UN chief Antonio Guterres, his spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said on Friday.

The legislature is dominated by the Coordination Framework, a bloc made up mostly of pro-Iranian factions, including former paramilitary Hashed al-Shaabi.

Also part of the cadre is former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, a longtime rival of incendiary Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, who has been embroiled in heated duels with the bloc all year.

Sadr, who has the ability to mobilize tens of thousands of his supporters with a single message, has previously refused to join Sudani’s government.

Under a power-sharing system adopted in Iraq in the aftermath of the US-led invasion in 2003, ministerial posts are shared among Iraqi ethnic and faith communities.

Thus, 12 ministers are Shiites from the Coordination Framework, six Sunnis, two Kurds and one Christian, two other ministries reserved for Kurds remaining to be filled.

The new government came to power “by the same methods as previous governments, with the same blocs and the same parties” that have dominated politics since the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, said political analyst Ali Baidar.

And these parties “consider the resources and the capacities of the country as a booty that they can share”.

New elections?

But the new cabinet does not have the support of a crucial faction, that of Sadr.

Tensions between the Coordination Framework and Sadr came to a head in late August, when more than 30 supporters of the cleric were killed in clashes with Iranian-backed factions and the military.

Sadr has repeatedly called for a snap election, but the cadre has sought to ensure a government is in place before any polls are held.

Sudani promised to “amend the electoral law within three months and hold elections within a year”, in apparent response to Sadr’s demands.

Giving concessions to the Sadrists could guarantee “relative stability”, according to Ihsan al-Shammari, a political scientist at the University of Baghdad.

On the other hand, Lahib Higel of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank, believes that “the parties behind the current government are not interested in holding early elections” and that “one year is not realistic”.

But Shammari pointed to the possibility of an “extreme reaction” if the Sadrists feel “isolated” or that “there is a plan to undermine their political future”.

Domestic or foreign policy?

Sudani said he will urgently work on improvements and developments that “affect the lives of citizens”.

Memories are fresh of nationwide anti-government protests against rampant corruption that erupted in October 2019, and on Friday hundreds gathered to demonstrate against the new government in the southern town of Nasiriyah.

In terms of foreign policy, Sudani reiterated his wishes “not to allow Iraq to be a base for attacks against other countries”.

He added that he would not engage in past power struggles between rival camps and would instead pursue a policy of “friendship and cooperation with all”.

Higel said she expects Sudani “to make internal issues such as unemployment, water and power shortages her priority rather than focusing on foreign policy.”

In an Iraq desperate for foreign investment, it “will try to strike a balance between the West and Iran”, despite its staunchly pro-Iranian base of support, the analyst said.

But in a country often caught in the crosshairs of regional conflicts – having recently been the target of Turkish and Iranian strikes – “balance” may not be enough, Shammari said.

Iraq must “demand respect for its sovereignty and non-interference in its internal affairs”, he said.