Double challenge

Friday, 2020-02-07 16:24:23
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New prime minister of Iraq, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO - Iraqi President appointed Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi as the new prime minister to replace Adel Abdul Mahdi, who was forced to resign under huge pressure from the unrest within the country.

The new Iraqi government is facing a series of challenges as they undertake sweeping reforms to prevent the country from a crisis, while harmonising relations with the United States amid internal pressure from Washington to withdraw American troops from the country.

Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi is facing many problems as he attempts to form a new government within just one month, especially as the Middle East nation is falling into a prolonged political deadlock due to the fierce rivalry between the parties. A new PM was considered unavoidable from pressure by political parties on the government’s positions.

His predecessor, Adel Abdul Mahdi, resigned in November 2019, due to a new wave of anti-government protests in Iraq that demanded the removal of corrupt and weak politicians. Meanwhile, Iraq’s security situation faces the risk of instability as airstrikes have occurred frequently at military bases in Iraq housing US troops. Under pressure to withdraw American troops, Iraq's parliament has passed a resolution telling the government to put an end to the presence of foreign troops in the country. Thousands of Iraqis have rallied in central Baghdad after influential Shi’ite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called on people to continue the march to protest against the presence of US troops.

The Iraqi parliament’s approval to expel foreign troops from the country has caused a rift and tensions in the relations between Washington and Baghdad. President Donald Trump's administration is preparing possible cuts of US$250 million in military aid to Iraq as well as reconsidering a series of other economic and military assistances that have not yet been committed to if American troops are deported. The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, under the US Department of State also planned to ask the White House Office of Management and Budget whether it can eliminate the US$100 million request for the fiscal year 2021.

Although a final decision has not yet been made, senior administration officials have ordered a review of funds that may be held or reallocated, if Iraq decides to ask US troops to leave the country. President Donald Trump also warned US unprecedented sanctions would be imposed on Baghdad. The US State Department warned that if its troops are expelled, the US could cut off access to a key Iraqi bank account held at the Federal Reserve Bank where oil revenues are kept. Under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483, all revenues from Iraqi oil sales would go into the account.

Iraq is the second-biggest oil producer of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and more than 90% of its budget (around US$112 billion in 2019), derive from oil revenues. Therefore, Iraqi officials expressed fear of an economic "collapse" if the US imposes threatened sanctions, including blocking access to the country's central bank account held at the Federal Reserve Bank. Cutting off access means totally turning off the tap for Iraq.

The US is putting pressure back on the Iraqi administration to maintain the presence of US troops in the Middle East country. US President Donald Trump and his Iraqi counterpart Barham Salih discussed the need for US military to maintain its presence in Iraq at their rare meeting on the sideline of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The two leaders agreed on the importance of continuing their economic and security partnership.

As an important ally of the US in the fight against terrorism in the region, Iraq is facing a "double challenge" as it has to harmonise the relationship of interests with the US while dealing with pressures from a wave of domestic protests demanding the US withdrawal. The new Iraqi government has many important tasks to return the country onto a stable trajectory, continuing the reconstruction of the country, and maintaining the achievements of the fight against the Islamic State (IS) organisation.