Iraqi President Barham Saleh (L) meets Prime Minister-designate Adnan al-Zurfi in Baghdad (AFP Photo)
BAGHDAD - 18 March 2020: Iraq's president on Tuesday named pro-Western lawmaker and former Najaf city governor Adnan Zurfi as the next prime minister, tasked with ruling a country hit by military unrest, street protests and the coronavirus pandemic.
The nomination came as Iraq faced two separate rocket attacks, one near the high-security Green Zone in Baghdad late Tuesday after a dawn attack hit a military base hosting US-led coalition and NATO troops.
In a statement late Tuesday, 54-year-old Zurfi pledged elections within a year of forming his cabinet and vowed to respond to the demands of protesters hitting the streets for months over government graft and inefficiency.
He served multiple terms as governor of the Shiite holy city of Najaf and was elected in the 2018 parliamentary vote under the Nasr coalition, led by ex-PM Haider al-Abadi.
Zurfi once belonged to the Dawa party, an opposition force to dictator Saddam Hussein who was ousted in the 2003 US-led invasion, and has spent years in the United States.
The Iraqi-US dual national would have to renounce his American citizenship to take up the premiership.
He met late Tuesday with outgoing premier Adel Abdel Mahdi, who resigned in December during Iraq's unprecedented wave of anti-government rallies.
Zurfi has 30 days to pull together a cabinet, which would be put to a vote of confidence in parliament.
While he is likely to have the backing of some Shiite parties and the Kurdish and Sunni factions, he was quickly spurned by the powerful Fatah bloc, parliament's second-largest.
"We reject the president's unconstitutional step," said a statement by Fatah, the political arm of the Hashed al-Shaabi military network that includes factions allied with Washington's arch-foe Tehran.
The United States was more upbeat. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iraqis wanted "a government that upholds Iraq's sovereignty, provides basic needs, is free of corruption, and protects their human rights."
If Zurfi "puts these interests first, he will have US and international support," Pompeo wrote on Twitter.