When a nation is ruptured by great social divisions, it needs a great reconciler. The United States, for example, currently has no elected leader bringing Americans together over issues of racism raised by the police killings of Black people. In an odd reversal of roles, Iraq now seems to have such a leader for its divisions – 17 years after the U.S. set that country on a path to democracy with the ouster of a dictator.
He is Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who became prime minister last month and who once created a foundation dedicated to reconciliation in Iraq and the promotion of equality and diversity. After only a few weeks of making reforms, he has earned the trust of nearly two-thirds of Iraqis, according to a recent poll.
Mr. Kadhimi is the first prime minister who does not belong to a political party, a sign of the country’s desire to heal its religious and ethnic rifts. His political nonaffliation – he is a former journalist and spy chief – is something both freeing and difficult as Iraq deals with the pandemic and its worst economic crisis since 2003.
One reason he was tapped for the job is that youthful mass protests last October against a corrupt political system brought down a prime minister. Politicians were then forced to select a clean and neutral reformer.
Mr. Kadhimi’s abilities to bring people together were on full display June 10 during a visit to Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city. The city is still in tatters three years after Iraqi forces liberated it from Islamic State. At one point, ISIS controlled a third of Iraq and made Mosul the seat of its self-proclaimed caliphate.
To help revive Mosul, the prime minister met with Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Christians, and others who are trying to piece together a torn society. In a visit to a Christian area, for example, he said Iraqis must defend the right of everyone to belong and coexist. “Without tolerance we cannot live together and our diversity must be a source of strength for us,” he said, according to The New York Times.
He also promises to release nonviolent protesters who were arrested in recent months. And he pledges to investigate the killing of more than 500 protesters.
Both the U.S. and neighboring Iran still have a strong hand in Iraq. Yet both support the new prime minister, perhaps because they, like most Iraqi politicians, realize young people want the country to end its sectarian-based politics and to get on with solving daily problems. If Mr. Kadhimi is to be a great reconciler, he already has the people on his side.