Everything you need to know about Basra’s new governor

Everything you need to know about Basra’s new governor
After Nasrawi fled to Iran in a bid to escape corruption charges, who is the man now named as Basra's mayor?
4 min read
04 Sep, 2017
Both mayors belong to the Iranian-backed Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq [Getty]
Iraqi businessman Asaad Abdul Emir al Eidani was the latest man to be named mayor of Iraq’s richest oil province by the local council of Basra.

The decision was officially announced following an impromptu voting session on Sunday, not without unleashing a stream of controversy and speculations over the council’s choice.

So exactly who is the man handed the reigns of Iraq’s oil capital?

Fifty-year-old Eidani is a known business man and contractor and hails from one of Basra’s largest tribes. He graduated from Basra’s College of Engineering in the 90s and has previously served as a member of the provincial council.

His ascent to power has been widely viewed as circumstantial, filling the governance void created by the former governor, Majid Nasrawi’s unforeseen resignation three weeks ago.

Nasrawi and his son fled to Iran in an effort to evade charges of corruption. One little discussed fact is that both mayors belong to the same political camp – the Iranian-backed Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI).

Despite achieving a landslide victory with 24 out of the 27 votes, the appointment was met with audible resistance by some council members, citing Eidani’s alliance with disreputable sides.

They accuse the new mayor of having been ushered to power by America, as their trusted ally. Others view Hakim to have sanctioned the appointment, with Iranian approval.

This would not be the first time in Basra’s recent history that the local mayor has been ushered to his seat by foreign powers. During the occupation of Basra by British forces in April 2003, local tribal elders were co-opted and assigned mayoral powers by occupying colonels.

Though Eidani has risen to power as a known associate of Ammar al Hakim’s fledgling 'National Wisdom Party' – a breakaway ISCI faction – over the years Eidani’s political stripes have noticeably changed.

Before aligning himself to the ISCI camp, Eidani and former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were particularly close. During the former premiers disastrous tenure, the two men negotiated and secured deals in the field of oil and construction, mostly equipment or service related.

Prior to that, Eidani headed the Mu’tamar party’s Basra office belonging to the late Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, that congratulated the new mayor on his new post and pledged their support days ago.

Rewinding the clock even further back, we find Eidani in the United Kingdom where he is said to have worked in flat repairs and maintenance. The time he and his family are said to have spent there has brought to surface allegations that Eidani is a dual national.

The charge was rebutted by Eidani on Twitter which he joined as a user earlier this month.

"I possess nothing other than one passport – the Iraqi one – and the American embassy did not interfere with my appointment as mayor, but it was the people of Basra who chose me,” Eidani said in a recently shared tweet.

What is Eidani promising?

Like the long line of politicians before him, the new mayor is promising extensive reforms to combat seismic corruption rendering Iraq’s ministries – local and central – defunct.

Mechanisms will be needed if the lofty ambitions Eidani has voiced are to be realised, but the passing of time will soon reveal whether his grand scheme is achievable.

A video leaked days ago captures angry crowds chanting on repeat, "tear and uproot, all of you are thieves," as Eidani and his entourage arrived into the city.

Many hope that Eidani will face up to their demands, but battle-hardened citizens need a little more than an unkept promise heard too many times before.

Good guy, bad guy?

In an interview with Kurdish state run NRT station, Eidani gloated about his decision to forfeit his salary.

"I'll receive not even one dinar… for as long as I occupy this position" he said. "The salary I receive will be donated to the families of our [Iraq’s] martyrs".

When asked by the presenter how he would live, a smug Eidani retorted, "I do not need the salary that comes to me, I will be donating this all … I am a businessman after all."

A total of at least $70,000 is the estimated sum Eidani would actually forgo.

Whether a gesture of goodwill or an act of deception to win the masses back, inhabitants of the oil rich province have little choice in deciding both their leaders or future fate.

The facts remain unchanged. As America and Iran try to ensnare and seduce the newest mayor, losing control of Basra would amount to political suicide for the regional forces.

Nazli Tarzi is a freelance British-Iraqi journalist, specialising in Middle East politics, with a particular interest in Iraqi affairs. Follow her on Twitter @NazliTarzi

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.