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Iraq’s New Leaders Seen as Technocrats, in a Break From Sectarian Politics

“It’s hard to be optimistic about Iraq and there are hard challenges ahead, but there is room for small change,” he said. “There is room for cautious optimism.”

Still, the new government could hardly be described as post-sectarian. According to an unofficial agreement in place since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq’s top three jobs are distributed by sect: the largely ceremonial president is a Kurd; the speaker of Parliament is a Sunni; the prime minister is a Shiite. That arrangement still holds.

But the selection of Mr. Abdul Mahdi and Mr. Salih suggest a more conciliatory approach.

For years, Mr. Abdul Mahdi served as a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a large Shiite party tied to Iran, but he became independent last year. He would be the first prime minister in 13 years not from Islamist Dawa party of former Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, whose Shiite majoritarian leadership alienated Iraq’s Kurds and Sunnis.

Mr. Salih, too, is seen as a uniter.

Mr. Salih, 58, has a doctorate in engineering from Britain and has previously served as Prime Minister of Iraq’s Kurdistan region and as planning minister in the Iraqi government.

Usually, Iraq’s two main Kurdish parties agree on a presidential candidate to send to Parliament in Baghdad to fill the post.

But this time, the vote was sharply contested, with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan pushing for Mr. Salih while its rival, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, supported a confidant of Masoud Barzani, the former president of the Kurdistan region who pushed for a referendum on Kurdish independence last year. The referendum passed in a landslide but backfired spectacularly, escalating tensions with Baghdad and ultimately leaving the Kurdish region with less territory and autonomy than it had before.

The selection of president went to Parliament, where Mr. Salih won 220 out of 273 votes, largely because he is seen as more conciliatory on the issue of Kurdish independence.

“I promise to safeguard Iraq’s unity and safety,” he said as he was sworn in on Wednesday.

Source: NYT > World

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