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Who is the new Iraqi prime minister?

By Claude Salhani   |   Aug. 17, 2014 at 1:30 PM
BAKU, Azerbaijan, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Who is Haider Al-Abadi? This is a name you are likely to hear repeatedly over the next few months. Simply put, he's the man who's going to save Iraq from the orgy of violence that is playing itself out in much of the country. Or at least he's going to try.

He is the man that will attempt to put some order back in Iraq. He is the new prime minister who was appointed last week by the president. He replaces Noori al-Malaki.

Dr. Haider Al-Abadi is an Iraqi politician and spokesman for the Islamic Dawa Party. He was nominated for the role of prime minister of Iraq on 11 August by President Fuad Masum.

The new prime minister's job is not an easy one by any means. He steps up to the podium with the incumbent reluctantly vacating the seat of power. And he knows that he will need to be constantly looking over his shoulders to ensure that Nouri al-Maliki does not attempt a tricky comeback.

Al-Abadi, a Muslim Shia, is 62 years old. He was born in Baghdad in 1952 and was educated at the University of Baghdad.

On being nominated as prime minister, al-Abadi was told by the speaker of Iraq's parliament, "The country is in your hands. May God help you."

Indeed, the new prime minister is going to need all the help he can get. From God and from the devil before too long. In God's department Al-Abadi has the support of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, who earlier today voiced his support for the political transition.

Speaking at the Friday prayer meeting in the holy city of Najaf, the elderly Ayatollah said that this was a rare opportunity to resolve any outstanding security and political disputes.

Al-Sistani called on Iraqi lawmakers to stand up to the "historic responsibility" presented to them and support Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Haider Abadi in his efforts to form a new government."
But he will likely need all the help he can get, because just as God may be on the side of the new prime minister, the devil on the other hand, represented here by Islamist Jihadis will make his job of uniting Iraq a very difficult one. Al-Abadi inherits the political reins of a country deeply divided along sectarian lines.

So, who exactly is this savior, messiah or superman that will extricate Iraq out of its major problems? Who is the man that every Iraqi is going to look at and scrutinize carefully over the next several weeks?

At first glance Abadi resembles very much the man he is replacing. Like Maliki, he is a member of the Islamic Dawa Party, one of Iraq's biggest Shiite political blocs. Also similar to al-Malaki, the new prime minister's power base rests in the Shiite community in Iraq.

Another striking similarity between the two men is that the new prime minister, just as his predecessor, was forced into exile by the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Al Malaki returned to Iraq after the Sunni dictator was toppled in the U.S.-led 2003 invasion.

He is considered well educated. A specialist on Iraqi affairs described the new prime minister as "a moderate." He joined the Dawa Party when he was still a teenager. He left Iraq to study abroad after receiving a bachelor's degree in the mid 1970s. Like tens of thousands of fellow Iraqis he avoided coming back to his native country while Saddam was in power.

To begin with he starts off with a large advantage over Malaki, in his willingness to compromise.
Two of his brothers were far less fortunate. They were arrested and executed in 1982 for belonging to the Dawa Party.

After Abadi had his passport canceled by Saddam's people, he spent many years in Britain where he received a doctorate in electrical engineering at the University of Manchester. His father, who had been a prominent Iraqi official, was accused of insufficient loyalty to the regime and was forced to retire in 1979. He moved to Britain and lived there until his death.

After Hussein was ousted, Abadi returned to Iraq in 2003 and became communications minister in the interim government. His knowledge of foreign languages and the numerous contacts made in Europe during his numerous years of exile came in rather handy in his new position.

He has an impressive biography: in 2005 he was put in charge of cleaning the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar of al Qaeda elements. He succeeded in bringing together a number of Iraqi tribes. No doubt this is an experience from which he will be able to draw upon in his new position.

That city is today under the control of the Islamists.

Just last week he stressed a great need in Iraq for unity and compromise in the face of a dangerous coming. He said all groups have been weakened in the face of the enemy. He is opposed to the idea of dividing Iraq and looks favorably at turning to Iran for help, If need be.
Time is of the essence as Maliki will continue to serve as the country's caretaker prime minister and top military commander until Abadi forms a new government.

If he was to form a government to represent all Iraqis, he would have to include Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. Perhaps the hardest task informing is going to be to convince prominent members of the Sunni community to join his government and in so doing declare their opposition to the Islamic State.

Then again, getting Nouri al-Maliki to step down was not an easy feat.

With support from both United States and Iran, Abadi should succeed convincing an important part of the security forces in Baghdad to support him. Convincing some Sunni Iraqis to support him and his monumental task ahead is a first step that will have to be followed by convincing members of his own community, the Shiites, who remain divided.

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