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Haidar al-Abadi: from exile to Iraq PM designate

Haidar al-Abadi, who was nominated Monday as Iraq's next premier, is a former exile and long-serving MP who was close to Nuri al-Maliki
Communication Haider al-Abadi speaks during the UN-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society, 12 December 2003, in Geneva (AFP)

Haidar al-Abadi, who was nominated Monday as Iraq's next premier, is a former exile and long-serving MP who was close to Nuri al-Maliki until he took his job.

"The country is in your hands," President Fuad Masum told Abadi after accepting his nomination by parliament's Shiite alliance in a move slammed by Maliki, who insists he is being robbed of a third term.

Abadi was communications minister in the interim government set up after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and is a member of Maliki's Dawa party.

"Up until recently, he's been a Maliki surrogate," said Kirk Sowell, the Amman-based publisher of the Inside Iraqi Politics newsletter.

"I have never seen much daylight between the two of them."

Abadi, who was born in 1952, was elected to parliament in 2006, chairing the Economy, Investment and Reconstruction Committee and then the Finance Committee.

He was voted deputy parliament speaker in July, before being tapped to form the government.

"Haidar is a very friendly person, very down to earth," said Zaid al-Ali, a legal expert and the author of the book The Struggle for Iraq's Future.

"People ... accept that he's a very easy person to speak to. You don't need to look over your shoulder after speaking with him, you don't have to be worried about disagreeing with him," Ali said.

Like Maliki and other senior politicians, Abadi spent years in exile before returning to Iraq.

Abadi lived in Britain, where he graduated from Manchester University in 1981 with a doctorate in electronic and electrical engineering, remaining abroad for most of Saddam Hussein's rule.

In a biography on his website, Abadi said that two of his brothers were arrested by Hussein’s government in the early 1980s and executed for being members of Dawa, which opposed Saddam.

A third brother was arrested and imprisoned for 10 years on the same charge.

If he is successful in forming a government in the next 30 days, Abadi will face enormous challenges as premier.

Iraq suffers from rampant corruption, has major shortfalls in basic services such as electricity and clean water, and is sharply divided along religious and ethnic lines.

But the greatest of all will be security, with extremist-led insurgents in control of large areas of five Iraqi provinces, and hundreds of people killed in attacks each month.

Maliki sought to address violence, which has been on the rise since April 2013, with military force, making little in the way of concessions to his opponents, especially members of the country's Sunni Arab minority.

But without reaching out to Iraqi Sunnis and giving them a significant stake in politics and government, it will be extremely difficult to bring the violence plaguing the country under some semblance of control.

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