In a Lecture Held by the ECSSR, Ambassador Silliman: “Al-Kadhimi Has Proven His Ability to Overcome Many Enduring Problems in Iraq”

The Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) organized lecture No. (751) on Tuesday evening, July 7, 2020, titled ‘Can the New Prime Minister of Iraq Solve the Country’s Enduring Problems?’ The lecture was delivered by H.E. Ambassador Douglas Silliman, President of The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, US, and former US Ambassador to Iraq. The ECSSR broadcast the lecture on its YouTube channel, attracting a diverse audience with a keen interest in the topic.

The lecturer began by discussing the fundamentals of Iraq, detailing its capabilities, natural resources and highlighting the significance of its location. He also spoke of the tough economic situation facing the country, where the per capita GDP is just $17,000.

Ambassador Silliman described the social situation and complex demographic structure, which causes division within Iraqi society, particularly between Shia and Sunni Muslims. He said that religion is exploited for political purposes, because many political groups that were established following 2003 are based on religious principles and identities.

The lecturer said when current Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi took office, he inherited this difficult reality, characterized by painful division. Ambassador Silliman described Al-Kadhimi as a very interesting political personality. He comes from a respected Shia religious family and has connections to senior and more moderate Shia religious leaders in Najaf, Karbala and Baghdad. Al-Kadhimi built strong relationships with neighboring countries when he was Chief of the Iraqi Intelligence Service; former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi often sent Al-Kadhimi to countries in the region to convey positive messages and conduct cordial talks.

He added that although Al-Kadhimi is not affiliated with a political party, and lacks broad political support within the Iraqi parliament, he is capable of addressing existing issues and solving many of Iraq’s chronic problems. This was confirmed by the cabinet reshuffle, when he appointed people with outstanding expertise to the ministries of defense and interior, and changed the entire military and general staff command. He has made it clear, both in words and actions, that he is the commander in chief of the Iraqi armed forces, and therefore, must be in charge of armed units in the country. This is an unprecedented challenge to the independence of the Hashd al Shaabi forces and other Shia militias backed by Iran.


The lecturer indicated that through his foreign policy, Al-Kadhimi is keen to strengthen Iraq’s relationships with surrounding Arab countries, and internationally. He has reached out to a number of Arab countries, including Saudia Arabia and Kuwait, as well as other countries, including the US. In doing so, he highlighted the most pressing issues facing his government; ineffective bureaucracy, which is described as incompetent, out of control, corrupt and politicized; the issue of Iraq’s sovereignty; disunity within the security forces; and, the issue of Iraq’s borders, which are well secured with Kuwait, Jordan and to some extent Turkey, however, not with Iran.

Ambassador Silliman went on to discuss the relationship with the Kurdistan Region, which is semi-autonomous and suffers the same problems that plague the rest of Iraq; corruption, inefficient bureaucracy and its swelling youth population. He explained that although Al-Kadhimi enjoys positive relations with the Kurds, he must advance very carefully and strike a balance between the interests of his allies in Kurdistan, and his need for support from political parties in other parts of the country.


The lecturer offered his views on why the US, the UAE, and other countries regionally and globally, should continue to assist Iraq and Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi. He particularly highlighted the need for strong, professional Iraqi security forces, as necessary to prevent ISIS from re-emerging as a threat to Iraq and the region. He also made the point that a truly independent Iraq would be able to deter Iran’s use of proxy forces to carry out its strategic objectives in the region.