BEIRUT: The possible successor to Nouri al-Maliki as Iraq’s next prime minister is a British-educated engineer who is expected to be more conciliatory with Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds, observers say.
Haider al-Abadi, 64, received a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Manchester in Britain, where he lived as a political exile during the Saddam Hussein era.
Abadi served as an adviser to Maliki in the first post-U.S. invasion elected government and was deputy speaker of Parliament when Iraqi President Fouad Massoum asked him Monday to form a new Cabinet.
Abadi is the spokesman for Maliki’s Dawa Party, and recent statements by Abadi on Iraq’s domestic political scene, amid an offensive by ISIS militants and allied insurgents sweeping through northern Iraq, have been in line with of Maliki’s.
But Reidar Visser, an academic expert on Iraq, told the Washington Post that compared to Maliki, Abadi enjoyed “much broader support, especially from Kurds and Sunnis.”
“Many of the elites from the governing council-era consider him one of their own in terms of a prestigious family background, whereas Maliki was seen as more of an upstart from humble origins,” Visser told the newspaper. “Things like that count in the Iraqi establishment.”
Another sign of Abadi’s standing is that he was considered a contender for the job of prime minister in 2006 and 2010.
Abadi joined Dawa at the age of 15, according to his resume. His father Jawad was a physician and prominent health sector bureaucrat before he and a number of colleagues were purged by the Baath Party in 1979.
Two of Abadi’s brothers were murdered in 1982 by Saddam Husein’s regime, for belonging to Dawa.
Abadi, along with a number of his colleagues, is also known for locking horns with the U.S. occupation authority, particularly over the issue of Iraq’s national sovereignty. While minister of communications, he insisted on inserting clauses favorable to Baghdad in contracts with mobile phone operators, which angered the Paul Bremer-led Coalition Provisional Authority.