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Iraq Ends a Year of Deadlock, Elects New President: Who Is Abdul Latif Rashid?

Rashid was elected to power with 160 seats in the 269-member Iraq Assembly, as opposed to his opponent's 99 seats.

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Iraq's Parliament on Thursday, 14 October, elected Abdul Latif Rashid, a Kurdish politician, as the country's next president, ending a year of political deadlock.

The 78-year-old former minister succeeded Barham Saleh as the head of State after the culmination of two rounds of voting on Thursday, winning 160 votes against Saleh's 99, Al Jazeera reported.

Saleh is said to have walked out of Parliament while the votes were being counted.

However, the election was marred by a rocket attack in Baghdad's heavily-guarded Green Zone, where important government buildings are located. The attack came just an hour before Parliament was to meet to elect the country's next president.

Following Rashid's victory, Shia politician Mohammed Shia al-Sudani was named the country's prime minister-designate, who will now have 30 days to form a government.

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In Iraq's political system, the president is elected from the Kurdish community, while the prime minister is elected from among the Shias. The Speaker of Parliament, on the other hand, is always a Sunni.

Who Is Abdul Latif Rashid? 

Born in 1944 in Iraq's Sulaymaniyah, Rashid is an engineering graduate from the University of Liverpool and a doctorate holder from the University of Manchester.

Marking over 30 years in Iraqi politics, the veteran leader was elected as the vice-president of the Iraqi National Congress in 1992, and became a part of its six-member core leadership in 1998.

He served as the Minister of Water Resources from 2003-10. After Saddam Hussein was removed from power, Rashid oversaw massive improvements in the management of water resources in the country.

He also served as a senior advisor to the then Iraqi President Jalal Talabani from 2010 until the end of the latter's tenure in 2014.

Rashid has been involved in several programmes and organisations working in the sphere of engineering and agriculture. The minister had also worked as a senior project manager of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (UNFAO) in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

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Challenges Ahead

Rashid comes to power at a time when Iraq is fractured by infighting among its prominent communities. The president will face an uphill task in mending fences between the government and the country's Kurdistan region.

However, those close to him remain optimistic.

In the multi-faith country, the Kurdish president "has a good standing with both Shiite and Sunni politicians," a government official close to Rashid was quoted as saying by AFP.

As president, Rashid's experience as water minister will also be tested as he will attempt to tide over the enormous drought that has gripped the country. According to the UN, Iraq is the fifth-most vulnerable country to climate change.

Further, one of Rashid's greatest challenges would be to end the dispute with neighbouring Turkey over the sharing of waters of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and rejuvenating the dry marshes of southern Iraq, which have been designated as a 'World Heritage Site' by UNESCO.

The vote on Thursday marked the longest deadlock the strife-torn country had faced since 2003, when the Saddam Hussein regime was overthrown by the United States.

Iraq had come close to forming a government in October 2021, when the party of Shia Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr won the election with 70 seats. However, the party was unable to stich together a viable coalition.

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The political paralysis that ensued saw widespread protests and rioting, which led to the deaths of at least 21 people and injured over 250.

In all probability, Rashid's recent victory in the Assembly, with close to 60 percent votes garnered, will ensure smooth government formation in the days to come.

(With inputs from Al Jazeera and AFP.)

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Topics:  Iraq   President 

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