By: Nadum Jwad
As the dust is settles after a bruising election in Iraq, and as the horse trading begins between the many parties to name the next prime minster and the government (that is if they all agree on the final seat count), the focus also will be on naming the next president of Iraq. Since the mid-2000s, the presidency is primarily a symbolic office, as the position does not possess significant power within the country according to the October 2005-adopted constitution (1.) Two names have emerged as the possible candidate for the position, Barham Saleh, the current president, and the Kurdish politician, Hoshyar Zibari.
Hoshyar Mahmud Mohammed Zebari is an Iraqi politician who formerly served as the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq in 2014 and also as the Minister of Finance until 2016. He was Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2005 until 2014.
Zibari is a controversial figure and has many distractors and critiques with just as many controversies on a personal level. It is important, this writer believes, to explore his life and backgrounds.
Zebari was born to a Kurdish family in Aqrah, a city of Duhok Governorate, Iraq and grew up in Mosul (2.) He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from The University of Jordan in 1976. He also earned a Master of Arts in Sociology of Development from the University of Essex, United Kingdom in 1980. While studying in United Kingdom, he led the Kurdish Students Society in Europe and served as the chairman of the Overseas Student Committee from 1978 to 1980 (3.)
He joined the Kurdistan Democratic Party in 1979. In the 1980s, he fought as a member of the Peshmerga against the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein. He went on to become a member of KDP’s Central Committee as well as its Political Bureau. In 1988, he was given the charge of its foreign relations and represented the party in United States of America and United Kingdom. In 1992, he was appointed as a member of the executive committee of the Iraqi National Congress, as well as its Presidential Council in 1999 (4.)
After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he was appointed as a member of the Iraqi Governing Council. He was appointed Foreign Minister of Iraq in September 2005. In July 2012, Zebari said that al-Qaeda in Iraq members went to Syria, where the militants previously received support and weapons (5)
On 11 July 2014, Zebari was replaced as foreign minister by Hussain al-Shahristani, Iraq’s deputy prime minister, who assumed the position in an acting capacity, after Kurdish politicians withdrew from the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (6.) On 8 September 2014, he was appointed as a Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq under the government of the new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (7.)
On 18 October 2014, he was appointed as the Minister of Finance of Iraq but on 21 September 2016, he was dismissed from his position as Finance Minister after losing a no-confidence motion over allegations of corruption (8.)
Hoshyar Zibari as Iraq’s Foreign Minister
As it was stated above, Zibari was appointed as Iraq’s foreign minister in September 2005 and remained that position till July 2014 during the premiership of three prime ministers, Ayad Allawi (2004-2005), Ibrahim Al Jaafari (2005-2006), and Nouri Al-Malki (2006-2014.)
In an TV interview with one of the stations in Iraq after he left office, Zibari claimed that when he assumed his position, he was faced with so many obstacles and difficulties as he inherited the foreign affairs of a “one of the most hated countries around the world” with basically no relation with anyone after many years of wars and hostilities with neighboring countries, suffocating sanctions, and the fact that Iraq was under many UN resolutions. The sanctions against Iraq were a near-total financial and trade embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council on Ba’athist Iraq. This meant no contacts between Iraq any other country around the world, and this was especially true with all Arab countries. Zibari added that he worked very hard to establish new and restore old diplomatic relationships with many countries around the world, opened new embassies and consulates, and was successful in working with the UN to lift many of the sanctions.
Despite of such claims, Zibari’s performance as foreign minister (and especially during Nori Al-Maliki administration which was the longest he remained in the position) is painted by the general failure of cabinet of Nori Al-Malki which was marred by repeated accusations of corruption, sectarian strife, lawlessness, lack of basic services, and general dysfunctionality. This was culminated by the “melting” of the Iraqi army and the fall of Mosul in the face of ISIS attack in 2013, and the disaster which followed.
During his tenure ship as a foreign minister, Mr. Zibari was accused of being more loyal to the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan than to Iraq and has worked hard to fill embassies and consulates abroad with Kurds. It was also said, that in many instances he refused to carry out the orders of the prime ministers in appointing ambassadors and consular abroad and opted to appoint only Kurds. This was evident by his boycott of the cabinet meetings in protest of al-Maliki searing criticism of Kurds at that time as he accused Kurds of harboring Sunni militant opponents of the central government. As expected, the replacement of Zebari as foreign minister of Iraq infuriated the Kurds.
Hoshyar Zebari as foreign minister of Iraq
The writer was also told that prime minister Ibrahim Al Jaafari confined into one of his associates that Zibari goes silent while talking to others as soon as Al Jaafari steps into the cabinet meeting room. He was also accused of being very extravagant in using his position when travelling outside Iraq in the form of flights in his private jet, six stars hotels, and liberal consumption of alcohol. It was also said that he was caught with a prostitute while attending an Arab foreign ministers conference.
Hoshyar Zibari as Iraq’s Finance Minister
Zibari was appointed as finance minister on the 18th of October of 2014 in the government of Prime Minister of Haider al-Abadi and remained in the position till the 21st of September of 2016, when he was dismissed after losing a no-confidence motion over allegations of corruption. Zebari lost a no-confidence vote by 158 to 77 after questioning in parliament last month over alleged corruption and misuse of public funds, which he denied.
And just as he was accused of acting more as a finance minister of the Kurdish region than that of Iraq, there was wide rumors in Iraq whereas he was accused of arrangement to borrow monies from international donors in which the Kurdish region gets its share of but without any commitment to repaying neither the loan nor the associated interest.
Zibari was furious for his dismissal as finance minister and blamed the largest parliamentary block at that time (The State of Law) and specifically its leader (former prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki, whom he serviced as foreign minister) for orchestrating his departure and used foul language against him. He also “claimed” that he knows of six billion dollars was smuggled outside of Iraq in which the Al-Maliki countered by saying that Zibari, as finance minister should have said something about this when he was in the cabinet and that he could be questioned legally about this claim. Al-Maliki added that Zibari was not targeted by any parliamentarian given that 158 members voted against him, and some were Kurds in addition to others who did not find his answers to be satisfactory.
Zibari is not strange to controversies throughout his public life. This writer was told that in September 1989 while KDK was in an extremely weak position and living mainly on the financial, military, and political support of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Zibari, who then in charge of KDP foreign relations, stated in a London meeting that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a “theocratic dictatorship and trying to undermine the secular Kurdish movement by supporting its mercenary Islamic Kurdish group in Iraq.” A Kurdish student wrote a report about Zibari speech in a Kurdish journal. This forced KDP to issue a statement totally denying the mentioned report.
Hoshyar Zibari and the presidency of Iraq
If Zibari becomes the president of Iraq, it will be a real paradox knowing that he, like the rest of the Kurdish leaders, especially those of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and particularly his nephew, Former KRG president Masoud Barazani, never thought of themselves as Iraqis and have always regarded Iraq as an artificial state created by the British and the Kurds were always on the receiving end of many atrocities perpetrated by the central government in Baghdad. It is also known that he worked hard to promote the September 21, 2017, referendum for separation. But given that he did serve as foreign and finance minister and deputy prime minister in various Iraqi governments with all the perks which come with these positions, it is not hard to imagine him jostling for and accepting the position. But this remained to see. Having said this, Kurdish politicians have a long and illustrious history in that domain. For instance, the current and possible next Iraqi president, Barham Saleh was a known opponent of Baghdad and worked all his life to promote the separation of the Kurdish region and there is a famous picture of him showing his finger painted in blue to claim his voting for independence. It was also said that he asked his thesis supervisor in England to “wash his mouth” after uttering the “Iraq” word. But as it is turned out, Saleh worked hard behind the scenes to claim the presidency which he won on 3 October 2018 and routed his main rival Fuad Hussein with 219 votes to 22, dealing a blow to Hussein’s main backer, former Kurdish regional president Masoud Barzani who was the architect of the September 2017 cessation poll (9), prompting some Kurdish watchers to call him a hypocrite.
Barham Saleh with his wife voting for Kurdistan independence in 2017
- “Iraq’s Surprise: The Persistence of Democracy”. Wall Street Journal. 17 November 2017. Retrieved 2019-04-02. The prime minister is chosen by parliament, and the president, by convention a
- “Hoshyar Zebari, a consensus candidate for Iraqi presidency: Diplomat”. Kurd Net. 12 May 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
- “H.E. Hoshyar Zebari”. The University of Jordan. November 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
- Historical Dictionary of Iraq. Scarecrow Press, Inc. 2013. pp. 678, 679. ISBN 9780810879423.
- “Iraq warns of al-Qaeda influx to Syria”. RT. 6 July 2012.
- “Tensions mount between Baghdad and Kurdish region as Kurds seize oil fields”. Washington Post. 11 July 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
- ^ Bradley, Matt (8 September 2014). “Iraqi Parliament Approves New Cabinet, Raising Hopes for Unity”. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
- Stephen Kalin (21 September 2016). “Iraqi finance minister sacked, risking economic fallout”. Reuters. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
- The Washington Post, 10/2/2018
On the 2nd of January 2022, protests of PMU supporters against US forces in Iraq took place. The protests are ongoing while the 3rd of January is marking the second-year anniversary of the US authored assassination of the previous head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Qasim Sulaimani, and Deputy head of PMU, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad’s International Airport. Within the beginning of 2022, the PMU groups planned to withdraw 50% of their forces on duty from the military outposts and send them to Baghdad on 3rd of January for participating in the protests. Sending on-duty troops from military outposts to Baghdad for participating in the protests shows the fact that PMU is serious in standing up against US forces in Iraq.
These demonstrations are specifically held to condemn the assassination of Sulaimani and al-Muhandis but the time of the demonstrations is sensitive because the PMU groups have two other key concerns nationwide. One is the long-term existence of US non-combat missions in the country, and the second concern is the political discussions to form the new cabinet. As the outcome of elections was not very much welcomed by PMU leaders, the political negotiations are hardly going on the ground to form the new cabinet. For now, it is expected that PMU supporters would hold the demonstrations peacefully without further violating the context because any additional violence in the context would negatively affect the political negotiations between different parties to form the new cabinet. However, if key Shiite leaders who are leading PMU groups are not listened and are not part of the next cabinet, the Shiite organized armed groups would resume their violent activities against the US diplomatic and non-combat mission in Iraq. Plus, they will do their best to weaken the next government, and one of the mechanisms to weaken the government is to increase security issues and challenges for the next Prime Minister.
Furthermore, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) is another challenge. There is a huge security gap between the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Peshmarga in the disputed territories between Iraq and Kurdistan in Ninewa, Kirkuk and Diyala. This is due to on-going security and political issues between Erbil and Baghdad. These territories between ISF and Peshmarga have been the safe heaven of ISIS to reorganize themselves and establish difficult hideouts. The next scenarios to form the new Iraqi government will decide how likely this security gap is going to be filled out. If the Kurdish political parties mainly Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are first, jointly discuss the issues with Baghdad, second are part of the next cabinet based on strategic long-term mechanisms on which the historical constitutional issues are solved, the security challenges in the disputed areas will also decrease. However, if there is no official agreement to solve the long-term issues, the political atmosphere between Baghdad and Erbil would not offer quick solutions for solving the security challenges both Iraq and Kurdistan are facing in the disputed areas.
Lastly, regional historical challenges have already left negative consequences on the Iraqi ground. The historical Turkey-PKK issue is a clear example of these regional tensions. The PKK also has a key position in some internal political and security issues. Sinjar context is one clear example. The next cabinet of Iraq has the responsibility of clearing this issue up. However, this is going to be a challenge for the next Prime Minister whoever would be as the challenge is beyond the capacity of Iraqi government.
The next Iraqi government is not going to have an easy path to go through. The government will have to deal with multiple security, economic, and political challenges. Despite of political and economic issues the country has faced, multiple security challenges will likely continue for the rest of 2022.
- Who will form Iraq’s next government: 19/10/2021: France 24. Link of the article
- What are the best political scenarios emerging from the Iraqi elections: Murat Sofuoglu, Oct 13, 2021? Link to the article
- While Iraqi next government will be ‘business as usual’ the election has planted seeds for change: Omar al-Nidawi, Nov 1, 2021. Link to the article
- News Analysis: Tough haggling ahead to form new Iraqi gov’t after final elections results: Huaxia, Dec 1, 2021. Link to the article
- ANALYSIS: Scenarios facing Iraq amid new government formation: Michael Flanagan. Alarabiyanews. Link to the article
- Iraq- Current Critical Security Issues: Case Study, ISSAT. Link to the article
- Joint Statement on the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Dialogue: The US Department of State, Office of the Spokes Person. Media Note, July 26, 2021. Link to the article