Iraq’s new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, is a low-key figure who spent much of his life living in exile in Britain before returning to Iraq after the 2003 invasion. A Shia Muslim, he has previously been touted as a replacement for Nouri al-Maliki, the embattled incumbent.
Earlier this week, Iraq’s president appointed Abadi as prime minister designate and tasked him with forming a new, “inclusive” government.
Born in Baghdad in 1952, Abadi joined the Islamic Dawa Party – Maliki’s political bloc – at the age of 15. His father, Jawad al-Abadi, was a prominent Baghdad doctor and hospital director who became inspector general at the Iraqi health ministry. After the Baathists seized power, Abadi and his family came into conflict with the Saddam Hussein regime.
Abadi studied electrical engineering in Baghdad, and then in the late 1970s moved to Britain to do a doctorate at Manchester University. In the United Kingdom, Abadi became an outspoken Saddam critic and Dawa activist. In 1982, the Baath regime executed two of his brothers and imprisoned a third for 10 years. It cancelled his Iraqi passport in 1983. His father died in exile and was buried in London.
According to Abadi’s biography, posted on his Facebook page, he worked in the UK as an “expert in the technology of rapid transit” – the subject of his doctoral thesis.
In London, he ran his own small design and technology firm and in 1997 received a grant from the trade and industry ministry for technology innovation. Abadi also hosted a London café popular with Iraqi exiles.
Abadi returned to Iraq in 2003, where he became a key adviser to Maliki in Iraq’s first post-invasion elected government. He held a series of senior posts, including minister of communications and, most recently, deputy speaker of Parliament.
Following months of political deadlock, the moderate Dawa faction supported Abadi’s nomination as prime minister on Monday. Maliki’s refusal to give up the prime minister’s job – his supporters say he will challenge Abadi’s appointment in court – raises the prospect of Shia versus Shia conflict, both in Baghdad and beyond.
Abadi’s urgent political task will be to stop Iraq’s rapid disintegration and to halt the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis), which in recent months has seized vast swaths of northern and western Iraq.
In an interview with Huffington Post, Abadi bluntly warned that Isis militants were a “catastrophe” not only for Iraq, but for the entire region and the West too. He said the Iraqi government is able to defend Baghdad but requires outside help – “even from Iran”, if necessary – to kick Isis out of the country.
A moderate, Abadi is likely to enjoy support from Kurds and Sunnis, who have accused Maliki of pursuing a sectarian agenda and excluding them from power. – © Guardian News & Media 2014