Mustafa al Kazimi, a skilled negotiator with an uncertain future at the head of Iraq

Prime Minister Mustafa al Kazimi, who escaped an “assassination attempt” Sunday unscathed, was Iraq’s chief spy and is well connected and skilled negotiator who now faces an uncertain future following the October legislative elections.

Born in Baghdad in 1967, this man with a tanned face and thinning gray hair assumed command of Iraq’s intelligence services in 2016, in the midst of the war against the jihadists of the Islamic State group.

From this shadowy post, avoiding public attention, he forged ties with dozens of countries fighting Sunni jihadism, including the United States and Iran, two enemies vying for influence over Baghdad.

Trained in law at an Iraqi university, this Shiite Muslim fled to Europe to escape Saddam Hussein’s regime and began working as an opposition journalist.

When the regime fell in 2003, he returned to the country to found the immense complex of state media, at the same time that he was active in a foundation so as not to forget the crimes of Hussein.

In 2016, to general surprise, then-Prime Minister Haider al Abadi appointed this editorialist and human rights lawyer to head the intelligence services, often targeted by critics of humanitarian organizations.

“He is a pragmatist with connections to all the major players on the Iraqi scene and the Americans, and who has recently improved his relations with Iran,” a politician close to him told AFP.

Kazimi knows how to handle contradictions. Not only does he dialogue with Washington and Tehran, he is also a personal friend of Mohamed bin Salman, the crown prince of Sunni Saudi Arabia, the great regional enemy of Shiite Iran.

In recent months, it has also taken advantage of these good connections in the East and the West to raise its international profile.

Iraq has hosted meetings between the Iranians and Saudis, received a visit from Pope Francis, and organized an international conference on the region.

Kazimi “embodies the return of a sovereign Iraqi state,” says a Western observer.

– “Cunning player” –

Still, the prime minister has often had to smooth things over with the country’s pro-Iranian factions, who accused him of being an accessory to the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by the United States in January 2020 in Baghdad.

The main internal opposition comes from Hashd al Shaabi, former pro-Tehran paramilitaries now integrated into the state who demand the immediate withdrawal of all US soldiers from Iraq.

Now they accuse him of “complicity” in the electoral “fraud” of the legislative elections of October 10, in which Hashd’s political arm lost many deputies.

This situation has raised political tension in the country while the different parliamentary blocs negotiate a government and the appointment of a prime minister.

Kazimi is not officially a candidate for reelection, but some see him as a credible resource if no other figure emerges in the negotiations.

After gaining the support of the aging Iraqi political class in May 2020, Kazimi tried to improve relations with an angry population that for months rose up in protests with their leaders.

He is also trying to negotiate aid for an economically asphyxiated country, with oil revenues in free fall.

“He is an unrivaled negotiator and astute player,” said Toby Dodge, director of Middle East studies at the London School of Economics.


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