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Iraq Names New President, Paving Way for Next Government

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BAGHDAD—Iraq’s Parliament moved Thursday to end a yearlong deadlock over forming the country’s next government, choosing an independent Kurdish politician as the new president after a rocket attack nearby failed to disrupt the proceedings.

A majority of the lawmakers present in Parliament voted over two rounds to select Abdul Latif Rashid as president, a largely ceremonial post. Immediately after he was sworn in, Mr. Rashid asked Mohammed al-Sudani, a senior Shiite politician, to assemble a new government.

The Coalition Framework, a bloc of mostly Shiite factions backed by Iran that holds the most seats in Parliament, had nominated Mr. Sudani to be the prime minister in July, months after the parliamentary election in October 2021.

Mr. Sudani now has 30 days to form a cabinet, which would then need to be approved by Parliament, a period that is likely to see intense wrangling over key ministries between rival factions that claim to represent various sectarian groups in Iraq’s political system.

As lawmakers convened Thursday, a barrage of nine rockets fell on the Green Zone, the strongly guarded government enclave in central Baghdad where the Parliament building is located, according to Iraq’s security forces, who said several of its members were injured.

If he becomes the next prime minister, Mr. Sudani isn’t expected to make major policy changes, keeping Baghdad broadly aligned with Tehran while also preserving a military partnership with Washington.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last week, Mr. Sudani indicated that he wouldn’t seek major changes in Baghdad’s relationship with Washington, but he implied there could be discussion with the U.S. about changes in American force levels on Iraqi soil. Around 2,500 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, mostly to train Iraqi forces and prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State militant group.

“The vision of the new government is that it will do a revision of the presence of U.S. forces in a way that there will be a dialogue to determine how many forces are needed to stay in Iraq and where,” he said.

Mr. Sudani also stressed his determination to address rampant government corruption and to limit interference by Iran, stances that align both with his main rival, Moqtada al-Sadr, and with a small but vocal protest movement of Iraqis who say they aren’t aligned with any existing political faction.

The election last year was brought forward as a concession to a protest movement that began in 2019. It was dominated by the issues that triggered the upswell of dissent: an economic crisis and endemic corruption.

But a vote on the new government could still be delayed by continuing street protests and even violence from supporters of Mr. Sadr, a fiery cleric whose backers won the most seats in last October’s election but proved unable to assemble the votes to create a government.

Mr. Sadr’s supporters resigned from Parliament in July and carried out massive protests that blocked lawmakers from meeting for weeks, culminating in an Aug. 29 nightlong gunbattle between Mr. Sadr’s militia and security forces.

Mr. Sadr said in August that he was withdrawing from politics, but his supporters have continued to seek to block the Coalition Framework, which is led by his rival, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, from forming a government headed by Mr. Sudani.

The Coalition Framework’s ability to assemble the votes in Parliament for Mr. Sudani depends on divvying up ministries and government posts among Iraq’s Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties, a system that fuels the country’s corruption. Iran’s influence is equally entrenched, with many Shiite factions and their armed militias receiving backing from Tehran.

Thursday’s session took place amid tighter security that has prevented protesters from re-entering the Green Zone. Caretaker Prime Minister

Mustafa al-Kadhimi,

who was criticized for failure to remove the protesters from the Green Zone in August, said in a statement he had directed security services “to ensure full and necessary protection” for Parliament.

Iraq’s presidency is chosen by ruling Kurdish parties and has always been a Kurd under a power-sharing system in place for nearly two decades designed to avoid sectarian conflict. Iraq’s two main Kurdish parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, normally nominate a consensus candidate but were unable to reach an agreement, leading to Thursday’s vote.

Mr. Rashid, an independent, was elected president by a vote of 162 to 99, defeating the incumbent president,

Barham Salih,

who was supported by Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Write to David S. Cloud at [email protected]

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