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Iraq intelligence chief named as new prime minister-designate

Former Najaf governor Adnan al-Zurfi announces withdrawal from candidacy after rejection by political blocs
Iraq's President Barham Salih instructs newly appointed Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazimi in Baghdad (Reuters)

Mustafa al-Kazimi has become the latest nominee for Iraq's prime minister after Adnan al-Zurfi withdrew his candidacy following pressure from Shia political parties.

President Barham Salih granted the mandate to Kazimi, the country's erstwhile intelligence chief, in a ceremony on Thursday, according to state media.

Kazimi is the third person given the opportunity to lead the country in just 10 weeks, after the vacuum created by the resignation of Adel Abdul Mahdi in December.

Abdul Mahdi was forced to resign by a months-long anti-government protest movement, which has been campaigning to overthrow the entirety of Iraq's political establishment, who Iraqis blame for poor services, corruption and unemployment.

Zurfi, the former governor of Najaf, was nominated by Salih after the previous designate, Mohammed Tawfik Allawi, a former minister of communications, failed to gain the support of parliament.

However, Zurfi's nomination was met with scorn from a number of Shia political blocs, who view him as too pro-American and critical of Iranian influence in the country.

On Twitter, Zurfi cited "internal and external reasons" for his decision to decline the role.

"My decision not to proceed with my nomination is to preserve Iraq and its greatest interests," he said.

A crisis-ridden country

Kazimi himself was previously treated with suspicion by Iran-aligned groups in Iraq when his name was floated, with the Kataeb Hezbollah militia going as far as to warn of "war" if he became the nominee.

The group said Kazimi had been accused of involvement in the US assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in December.

However,  Kazimi's appointment on Thursday comes largely as a result of support given to him by a number of pro-Iran groups, including the Fatah coalition headed by militia leader and Iran loyalist Hadi al-Ameri.

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Other groups supporting Kazimi include the State of Law coalition, headed by former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the Hikma movement headed by cleric Ammar al-Hakim.

Crucially, Kazimi also received the support of the Coalition of Iraqi Forces, the largest Sunni bloc in parliament.

Kazimi will have 30 days to attempt to form a government, which will then be voted on by parliament.

Iraq is currently facing an array of crises.

Kazimi will have to tackle the spiralling coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed 69 people and infected 1,202, according to sometimes disputed official figures.

He will also have to contend with a collapse in the price of oil, overwhelmingly the country's main source of revenue, and a protest movement that has already rejected his candidacy.

Demonstrators have carried banners depicting Kazimi with his face crossed out, displaying their rejection of him.