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Iraq’s Prime Minister Seeks Aid From United Nations

When Iraq’s prime minister addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week, he is hoping to persuade the world that he is the leader who can finally solve his country’s persistent problems of corruption and political instability — and make it a reliable partner for the region.

He asserts that as the first Iraqi leader since the U.S. invasion in 2003 to have spent his entire life within the country, he is better able to understand what Iraqis have been through, and to make changes.

Every other prime minister after the toppling of Saddam Hussein spent years in exile or working abroad, but Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, 53, never fled Iraq, despite Mr. Hussein’s having ordered the execution of his father and other close relatives.

“I am a product of the institutions of the state,” Mr. al-Sudani said in a recent interview in Baghdad, “and I understand the citizens and their priorities.” He described himself as part of “a second generation” of post-Hussein politicians, and said those with his background were closer to the people and understood that “the street wants a change.”

Mr. Sudani’s assessment is born of 20 years of holding government jobs, from mayor to minister. During that time, he has managed to win over Iraqis of almost all political stripes, coming across as straightforward — even earnest — and pragmatic.

But he faces formidable obstacles, given the challenges confronting Iraq. Among them are global warming, the persistent and growing influence of Iran, and the entrenched system of corruption in a country where a high percentage of jobs are in government, and where applicants often must pay a bribe or have a political connection even for low-paying positions.

“If he really wants to succeed,” Ms. al-Rahim said, ”he’ll have to take a stand on a number of issues,” among them corruption, resolving differences with Iraq’s Kurdish minority, and strengthening relations with Sunni Arab governments in the region.

Mr. al-Sudani did point to some recent positive signs in his campaign to stabilize Iraq and make it attractive to foreign business.

The country has been able to handle millions of pilgrims, who come from around the world to religious sites; Austria recently reopened its embassy; and the French energy giant Total is moving ahead in partnership with Qatar and Iraq on a major energy project in the country.

Iran, and to a lesser degree Turkey, both remain difficult neighbors. While at times they have been supportive, they have also consistently interfered with Iraq’s efforts to prosper.

Early in Mr. al-Sudani’s term, Iran bombed northern Iraq repeatedly, targeting anti-Iranian militants sheltering in the northern Kurdistan region and underscoring the ease with which it could violate Iraq’s sovereignty. Turkey does much the same to militant Turkish Kurds in Iraq.

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