The unexpected appointments of moderate Iraqi Kurdish statesman Barham Salih as Iraq’s new president, and veteran Iraq Shiite politician Adil Abdul-Mahdi as prime minister are the product of behind-the-scenes cooperation between the US and Iran for their first joint bid to solve a serious Middle East problem. A political impasse since the May election left Iraq stranded for six months without a central government in Baghdad.
DEBKA Weekly’s sources stress that the unacknowledged cooperation between the administrations of President Donald Trump and Hassan Rouhani went forward quietly against a background of harsh exchanges. On Wednesday, Oct. 3, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the official termination by the US of a 1955 treaty with Iran after an international court issued a ruling based on that treaty. “Given Iran’s history of terrorism, ballistic missile activity and other malign actions, its claims under the treaty are absurd,” said Pompeo.
The process was not even interrupted when Tehran’s minions committed two recent outrages. On Sept. 28, Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen shot up and torched the US consulate in Basra in southern Iraq. But before that, on Sept. 11, Iranian agents attacked the headquarters of the Iranian Kurdish Komala party in the Iraqi Kurdistan town of Sulaimaniyeh. Their raid, which went unreported by the media, was conducted for the purpose of “executing” six Iraqi Kurds for the crime of contacts with US intelligence.
All the same, the secret US-Iranian talks on the shape of a coalition government in Baghdad are reported by DEBKA Weekly’s sources to have advanced with the help of moderate Iraqis, including Barham Salih, acting as go-betweens. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraqi’s supreme Shiite leader, gave this process an implied nod, by saying that he “does not support a candidate for the role of prime minister who is chosen from politicians who were in power in the past years.”
The Kurdish Salih, who maintains good relations with both the US and Iran, has emerged as the consensual President of Iraq. The Shiite Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a veteran politician and former oil minister, is the new prime minister. He is backed by a Shiite faction led by the populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, critic of both Washington and Tehran, who won the most seats in the May election. Still up for grabs is the key post of interior minister, who controls Iraq’s security and intelligence services, and would also need to be acceptable to both the US and Iran. Two candidates in the running are former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and the pro-Iranian militia leader Hadi al-Amiri.