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The Takeaway: Iraq takes first steps toward new government: What comes next

Updates from our regional correspondents on Turkey, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Egypt; multimedia on Israel and Iran — all in about 1,000 words.
Iraqis stand outside the parliament building, or Council of Representatives, in Baghdad's Green Zone on Feb. 27, 2020.

Iraqi government formation: What you need to know


The latest:

  • Iraq’s Council of Representatives (parliament) convened on Jan. 9 and elected Mohammed al-Halbusi (Taqadum/Progress Party) to serve a second term as speaker. Sadrist representative Hakim al-Zamli and KDP representative Shakhawan Abdullah were, respectively, selected as first and second deputy speakers of parliament.

The process:

  • The parliament now has a month to choose the president (from the Kurdish parties). 
  • Fifteen days after his selection, the president will designate a prime minister (a Shiite), appointed from the largest bloc, to form a government.
  • The government of current Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi will remain in office during the government formation process. 

The parties: 

  • The Sadrist bloc, led by populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, won the most seats (73). Sadr has declared his intention to try to form a "majority" government if he can cobble together support totaling 165 seats (the minimum for a majority of the house’s 329 members) through a partnership primarily with Sunni and Kurdish parties.
  • The other major bloc is the Coordination Framework composed of Shiite parties opposed to Sadr, including former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition (33 seats); the Fatah Alliance (17 seats), which is the political wing of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and is headed by Hadi al-Amiri and perceived as aligned with Iran; Aqd al-Watani Coalition, headed by Falah al-Fayyad (4 seats), also linked to the PMU and Iran; former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s Nasr Coalition (2 seats); cleric Ammar al-Hakim’s Hikma bloc (2 seats); and Kataib Hezbollah’s Huqooq movement, also a member of the PMU (1 seat) — a total of 59 seats (at time of publication). Ali Mamouri has the scoop here.
  • Other key parties and players include the Kurdistan Democratic Party, headed by Massoud Barzani (37 seats); Halbusi’s Taqadum/Progress Party (37 seats); and 43 seats for independents not affiliated with any party. You can see the full election results here.

The timeline:

How long will the remaining process take? Here’s what we know from past experience:

     2010:  8 months                             Election: March 7; Government Nov. 11

     2018:  5 months                             Election: May 18; Government Oct. 28

     2021:  2+ months (so far)             Election: Oct. 21; Government, TBD

Read more: Hasan Ali Ahmed has the report here from Baghdad on Halbusi’s election; Shelly Kittleson, also reporting from Baghdad, reports on how Iran- aligned militias have stepped up their activities in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region; and Omar Sattar describes unrest in Iraq’s provinces (see below).

From our regional correspondents:


1. Turkey walks a tightrope on Kazakhstan

Turkey has belatedly offered to help quell the violence that’s convulsed Kazakhstan, where government and Russian-aligned forces have suppressed popular protests. Over the weekend, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu promised “all kinds of support,” and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar pledged to meet the former Soviet state’s “any request.” What took Turkey, which shares ethnic and linguistic ties with Kazakhstan, so long to formally respond, when its sometime rivals in Moscow were able to deploy forces within days?

Analysts tell Amberin Zaman that the sudden revolt, along with the dismissal of longtime Turkish partner Nursultan Nazarbayev from his role as security council chairman, likely caught Turkey off guard. Turkish officials must also tread lightly with Kazakhstan’s strategic ally Russia, given that Ankara and Moscow are on opposite sides of Ukraine’s crisis. 


2. Erdogan woos Saudi Arabia as economy flounders 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to visit Saudi Arabia next month in an effort to patch up relations with another oil-rich regional powerhouse at a time when Turkey’s economic downturn threatens his political future. It remains to be seen whether Erdogan will meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler whom Turkey has blamed for the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

Fehim Tastekin makes the case that normalization with Saudi Arabia, whose unofficial boycott of Turkish goods has greatly reduced trade between the two countries, will require reconciliation with the crown prince himself. “Faced with sagging poll numbers, Erdogan needs badly to lure foreign investments and boost trade partnerships to improve conditions ahead of elections next year,” he writes. 


3. Economy tests Oman’s environment legacy 

Oman risks unraveling the environment legacy of the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who during his five-decade rule set up the Gulf region’s first office for environmental protection and later formed its first Ministry for the Environment. His successor, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, dissolved the ministry in 2020 and handed its environmental portfolio to a state agency.

“Economic hardship and high budget deficit has put this environmental commitment to the test,” writes Sebastian Castelier. But heavily indebted Oman is seeking to diversify its economy with international tourism, which will require preserving its largely untouched landscapes. 


4. Iraqi governors under fire amid protest movement   

Two governors in Iraq have resigned following protests last month over poor living conditions and a lack of job opportunities. Powerful Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who previously called for the dismissal of Najaf Gov. Louay al-Yasiri, called his resignation a “step in the right direction.” 

In his resignation letter, Yasiri said he was not pressured to step down by Sadr or Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. But as Omar Sattar reports, “some Shiite parties fear that the Sadr movement will control the local administrations in these provinces” following the governors’ departures.


5. Egypt digitally unwraps Amenhotep’s mummy 

Scientists in Egypt have “digitally unwrapped” the mummy of Amenhotep I, an Egyptian pharaoh whose secrets were kept for thousands of years. The 3,500-year-old royal mummy is one of the few remaining in Egypt whose contents hadn’t been disturbed. 

Mohamed Saied details how scientists used advanced CT scans and other noninvasive scanning technology to see under the linens that covered Amenhotep’s body. The resulting 3D images revealed what the king looked like when he died around the age of 35. Keep reading for more on the discovery. 


Multimedia this week:  Iran and Israel


Listen: Andrew Parasiliti speaks with Al-Monitor columnist Bijan Khajehpour about Iran’s economy and the nuclear talks in this week’s episode of “On the Middle East.” Link here

Listen: Ben Caspit speaks with former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, one of the main architects of the Oslo Accord, about prospects for Palestinian-Israeli peace. Link here.

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