Baghdad — Iraqi lawmakers approved a new government on Thursday, a key step after bitter infighting between Shia Muslim factions and deadly violence following a disputed election.
Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani’s 21-member cabinet is expected to face a myriad of challenges.
The oil-rich but war-ravaged country is plagued by rampant corruption, rampant unemployment and decaying infrastructure.
“Our ministerial team will take responsibility at this critical time, during which the world is experiencing enormous political and economic changes and conflicts,” Al-Sudani’s office said in a statement after the vote.
These changes “will add new challenges to our country, which is already suffering from accumulated crises, which have had economic, social, humanitarian and environmental impacts on our citizens”, he added.
He said Al-Sudani’s government had won the confidence of parliament, but did not give details of the vote, which was held by a show of hands.
However, he added that 253 deputies out of the 329 members of parliament were present at the session.
Al-Sudani, 52, was chosen to form the new government on October 13 after months of infighting between major Shiite Muslim factions that plunged the country into political stalemate.
– Elections “within a year” –
The movement of the incendiary cleric Moqtada, Al-Sudani’s rival in the Iraqi-majority Shiite camp, refused to join the government.
But Al-Sudani had the backing of the Coalition for State Administration, which includes the Coordination Framework, an alliance of powerful pro-Iranian Shia factions that hold 138 of the 329 seats in parliament.
Other members include a Sunni group led by parliament speaker Mohammed Al-Halbousi and two main Kurdish parties.
Of the 21 appointed ministries, 12 positions go to Shiites supported by the coordination framework, six to Sunni leaders, two to Kurds and one to a Christian – one of the three women in the new government.
Some analysts say a new government does not mean the end of the power struggle between Sadr’s camp and the Coordination Framework camp that escalated into deadly clashes in August.
Ihsan Al-Shammari, a political scientist at the University of Baghdad, said that to avoid further unrest, the new cabinet and coordination framework should bring about the reforms Sadr demanded.
Sudani has pledged to hold snap elections “within a year”, as demanded by Sadr, a gray-bearded preacher who once led a militia against US and Iraqi government forces.
– Endemic corruption –
The new Prime Minister and his government have been confirmed at a time when Iraq is facing many challenges and a struggling economy.
State institutions have been weakened by decades of war and corruption is endemic.
Official figures released last year estimated that more than $400 billion had disappeared from state coffers in the two decades since the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
One of Al-Sudani’s first tasks would be to pass a budget for 2022 – a key measure to unlock the huge oil export revenues earned this year that are locked away in the central bank’s coffers.
The colossal $87 billion in foreign exchange reserves are needed to implement much-needed reforms and launch infrastructure projects.
Despite its huge oil and gas reserves, around a third of Iraq’s 41 million people now live in poverty, while some 35% of young people are unemployed, according to the UN.
On Thursday, the UN mission in Iraq said it “welcomes the confirmation of the Iraqi government, reaffirms its willingness to support”.