WASHINGTON -- Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi needs to resign and appoint a new cabinet of ministers he personally chooses if he is to have any hope of successfully reforming his country, according to the governor of one of the most important provinces in Iraq.
Najmaldin Karim, the governor of Kirkuk province, made the remarks Monday in an interview with The Huffington Post.
"The time has come for Prime Minister Abadi to submit his resignation and form a new government of technocrats that he picks," Karim said, speaking at the headquarters of the Kurdistan Regional Government here. "He can pick among the Kurds, among the Arabs -- Sunni Arabs, among the [Shiites] -- among the minorities. He can do that. I think that's the only way you can say if Prime Minister Abadi is successful or a failure: if he picks his own ministers. But this way he can blame the parties."
Protests against government mismanagement and corruption erupted in Iraq in August. Though Abadi initially capitalized on the public dissent to try and push through reforms unpopular among other politicians in the Shiite-dominated government, his opponents have since stymied those efforts at change -- and left the prime minister, seen by Washington and many analysts as the best hope for a united and stable Iraq, at a loss.
"Prime Minister Abadi is trying his best," Karim told HuffPost. He slammed the people around Abadi -- cabinet ministers who were appointed to his government by parliament and have controversial ties to particular interests within Iraq.
The interior ministry, for instance, is run by a politician from the controversial Badr Organization. Badr's militia, one of the powerful Iran-backed Shiite armed groups in Iraq, has reportedly savaged Sunni Arabs in areas they have retaken from the Islamic State group, alienating more members of the ethnic group whose previous alienation helped the Islamic State gain power -- and in some cases matching the fundamentalist group's brutality.
"Abadi has a cabinet which he has not picked himself and that is one of the major things," Karim argued, citing cabinet resistance to a parliament-approved effort to empower Iraq's provinces.
Frustration with the centralized governing style of Abadi's predecessor, one-time Obama administration favorite Nouri al-Maliki, is widely seen as one reason why the country proved so vulnerable to the Islamic State's onslaught last year and why its various anti-extremist forces have yet to successfully unite.
Kirkuk is home to one-fifth of Iraq's vast oil reserves and is considered the country's crossroads and a cultural hub. The Islamic State group has attacked the governorate repeatedly since it captured almost a third of Iraq's territory last summer. The extremist organization, known also as IS, now controls western sections of the province including the town of Hawija, near where the U.S. suffered its first casualty in the anti-IS war last month. But much of the governorate, including the capital, Kirkuk city, has been kept safe owing to the presence of Iraqi Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga.
Kikruk's reliance on that armed Kurdish presence for its external defense -- internal affairs are managed by an ethnically diverse police force -- has renewed debate about the governorate's status within Iraq. That unresolved issue is a microcosm of the larger question about Iraq's future stability.
An ethnically mixed province home to Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Assyrian Christians, Kirkuk may eventually elect to link itself to the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, Karim has suggested, though he has said he would like to see special protections for the non-Kurdish groups there if that does happen. That potential plan is one reason why the governor's views on the Iraqi leadership in Baghdad are especially important: If he has lost faith in the central government, there's a good chance that government will lose even the little influence it still has in his vital province.
The U.S. can help Abadi strengthen his hand, but he must take charge of the situation himself, Karim said Monday.
Asked about Iran, the regional power supporting many of Abadi's opponents, the governor suggested that that country's leadership should see that change is the only way to save Iraq as a state.
"It is in Iran's interest to have a stable Iraq, there is no question about it," said Karim, who on this trip has called for Washington to work more closely with Tehran to tackle IS. "They should be supportive of reforms and fighting corruption and other things."
Also on HuffPost: