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Iraq gets new president, PM after months of political gridlock

Iraq now has new president and prime minister after a year of political gridlock and violence in the war-scarred nation.

Abdul Latif Rashid, 78, replaces Barham Saleh as head of state after the two-round vote in parliament on Thursday, winning more than 160 votes against 99 for Saleh, an assembly official said.

After the vote, Iraq’s newly elected president named Mohammed Shia al Sudani as prime minister-designate.

The voting to elect the president went to a second round after the candidates failed to obtain two-thirds of the votes of the deputies in the first round.

A deputy from the Sovereignty Alliance said “during the first round, the votes were limited to Barham Salih, current president, and candidate Abdul Latif Rashid.” 

Rashid, who was leading in the first round of voting, secured the presidency in the second round.

Iraqi political parties had failed to agree on electing a new president and prime minister since general elections held a year ago this week.

READ MORE: Crisis-hit Iraq makes latest attempt to elect president

Daunting task

Rashid will face the daunting task of breathing new life into fraught relations between the central government and the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

Hamzeh Hadad, a visiting fellow at the European Council of Foreign Relations, said that even though Saleh has left a mark of being a charismatic president, it did little to improve ties between Baghdad and Erbil. 

“If Latif Rashid is able to improve that, then that will overshadow anything his predecessor did.”

Born in 1944, Rashid studied in Britain, earning degrees from Liverpool and Manchester, and obtained a doctorate in hydraulic engineering in 1976.

A father of three, Rashid is keen on painting and opened a gallery in Sulaimaniyah in 2014, showcasing the works of local artists.

Iraq’s dangerous pursuit of sectarian politics against Sunnis

Formation of government

Al Sudani, an influential former lawmaker, governor and minister, faces a tough challenge of forming a government for the crisis-hit country. 

He has the backing of the influential pro-Iran factions of the Coordination Framework but he needs to earn the support of their rivals, the millions of diehard supporters of fiery cleric Muqtada Al Sadr.

Al Sudani, born in 1970, was just a nine-year-old boy when his father was executed for his opposition to Saddam Hussein.

After the US-led invasion in 2003, Al Sudani rose to prominence within the Shia political leadership.

With a degree in agricultural science, he moved through the ranks of the civil service, becoming governor of Maysan, the oil-rich province bordering Iran.

In 2010, he launched his political career in the capital Baghdad, rising within the government of prime minister Nuri Al Maliki, becoming the minister of human rights, then social affairs, and then of industry.

READ MORE: Rockets land in Iraq’s Baghdad as parliament rejects speaker’s resignation

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