10/14/2022, 12.57
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Breakthrough in paralysis: president elected, premier appointed

The new head of state is 78-year-old Kurdish Abdel Latif Rashid, who overcame rival (and outgoing) Bahram Salih by more than 160 votes to 99. As his first act, he entrusted the task of forming the new government to 52-year-old Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, an exponent of the pro-Tehran Shia faction. Yesterday's vote was marked by the launching of rockets in the Green Zone.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - One year after the general elections, the Iraqi parliament has succeeded in electing a new president, 78 year old Kurdish (according to the Constitution) Abdel Latif Rashid, who replaces his predecessor Barham Salih. An appointment that came after two rounds of voting in the House, gaining more than 160 preferences against Salih's 99.

Yesterday's vote is the first step towards unblocking the political and institutional stalemate that has paralysed and bloodied the country for over a year, so much so that the first act of the new head of state is to have given the Shiite Mohammed Shia al-Sudani the task of forming the new government. 

In Iraq, the role of the head of state is largely ceremonial and lacks real powers on the political level, but the vote is nevertheless an essential step to get the institutional machine moving again.

Rashid was Minister of Water Resources from 2003 to 2010; he has studies in British schools behind him and has emerged in the challenge against the outgoing head of state, who is vying for a second term.

The contest between Rashid and Salih for the presidency also mirrors the clash in the Kurdish world, which is predominant in northern Iraq where it enjoys wide autonomy and has its beating heart in Erbil. The two major Kurdish parties were divided in the election: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (Kdp) supported Rashid after withdrawing its candidate, while the rival faction of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (Puk) manoeuvred for a second term for Salih.

The two groups fought a bitter civil war in the 1990s; the fear is that the dispute over the president's seat could trigger a new bloody armed conflict between the parties, which in recent months have not found a common synthesis on the candidate.  

The 52-year-old al-Sudani, on the other hand, belongs to the Coordination Framework, a pro-Iranian alliance that now represents the majority bloc in Parliament after the withdrawal of Sadrist deputies last August. The Prime Minister in charge has previously served as Minister of Human Rights and Minister of Labour and Social Affairs; he now has 30 days to try to form the new executive and present himself in Parliament for the vote of confidence by the assembly. 

Yesterday's vote was also marked by the firing of at least nine missiles near the Green Zone, Baghdad's armoured area where diplomatic and institutional representations are based. Medical sources report that at least 10 people, including members of the security forces, were injured in the attack. 

Looming in the background is the figure of the winner of the October 2021 elections, the Shiite populist leader Moqtada al-Sadr, who in recent months has failed to create a majority bloc capable of forming a government. In August, he forced the resignation of his 73 deputies en bloc, declaring his intention to leave politics.

This choice  triggered protests by supporters, who took to the streets to demonstrate, and an urban guerrilla warfare that spread from the capital to Basra, involving rival Shiite factions close to Tehran and causing several casualties. Now people are waiting to understand the next moves, while among the population there remains a basic scepticism for the future: few believe that yesterday's vote can really change the substance of the country and help overcome the crisis. 

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See also
Elections in Mosul, celebrating in the streets
Polling stations open in Iraq amid fresh violence
Iraq poll: who will dominate the National Assembly?
How voting will take place in Iraq (overview)
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