But a bid to crown his political career with a run for the presidency faced a major hurdle last week when Iraq's federal court suspended his candidacy due to past corruption charges, causing an election delay that risks exacerbating existing factional divisions.
The presidential election was indefinitely postponed on Monday, stalling the already delayed formation of a new government. The results of October's parliamentary vote, in which pro-Iran factions were dealt a significant loss, were only confirmed
in December due to political bickering over the results. A new president would be tasked with asking the winning bloc to form a government.
The suspension was a blow to the ambitions of Zebari's key backer Moqtada al-Sadr, the populist Shiite Muslim cleric who has emerged as a kingmaker and is bent on pushing through a government that excludes his pro-Iran Shiite rivals.
was seen as a friend of the west and was known as a successful negotiator. But his political career took a turn in 2016 when, as finance minister, he was accused of corruption and mishandling of public funds. Zebari denied the allegations.
According to the post-Saddam system of governance in Iraq, the Kurdish minority assumes the presidency, while Shiites run the premiership and the Sunnis take the position of parliament speaker.
Since 2005, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP)'s rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has occupied the ceremonial position based on an understanding that the PUK would take Iraq's presidency while the KDP would rule the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. Zebari was running against PUK's incumbent President Barham Saleh.
But the KDP's clout in the Baghdad parliament has grown of late, emboldening the party and winning it new allies like Sadr. The revival of graft allegations has however rattled Zebari's Shiite and Sunni backers, dampening his prospects for the presidency. Sadr, who emerged as the biggest winner the October election after having campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, had to withdraw his support. It's unclear if the KDP will field another candidate that's acceptable to Sadr or stand by Zebari.
Sadr reiterated his call for a government of national majority on Tuesday, after meeting Esmail Qaani, head of Iran 's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force. "Neither eastern nor western, a government of national majority," he said on Twitter. The slogan was reminiscent of the 1979 Iranian revolution motto "Neither Eastern nor Western - Islamic Republican." Iran celebrates the 43rd anniversary of its Islamic revolution this month.
If Sadr gets his way and the bloc he leads elects a president of its liking, Iraq could have a government that has quite a different approach to Iran. But the idea of an Iraqi government devoid of Iran's Shiite allies won't sit well in Tehran, and those prospects risk a backlash from pro-Iran groups, many of whom are heavily armed.
Other top Middle East news
Iranian man beheads teenage wife, shocking the country
A video showing a smiling man
walking in Iran with his teenage wife's severed head in his hand has shocked the country. His mother was quoted as saying her son had threatened to kill his wife previously and was responsible for the murder.
- Background: The girl had reportedly fled to Turkey four months before being persuaded to return to Iran by her father. Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency referred to the killing as an "honor" murder.
- Why it matters: The girl was reportedly 12 years old at the time of her marriage. The issue has again raised concern over the country's laws around murder and gender-based violence.
Biden, Saudi king discuss energy supplies amid rising prices
US President Joe Biden and King Salman of Saudi Arabia discussed energy supplies in the face of soaring fuel prices and developments in the Middle East, including Iran and Yemen, in a call on Wednesday.
- Background: Last week, oil producing states agreed to stick to moderate rises in its production as they struggle to meet existing targets amid calls for more crude from top consumers to cap surging prices.
- Why it matters: High oil prices are a risk to the Biden administration ahead of November's mid-term congressional elections in which his fellow Democrats will defend slim majorities in the Senate and US House of Representatives.
Dubai plans to attract 50 multinational companies within three years
The plan is part of a three-year strategy adopted by the Dubai International Chamber to boost the emirate's status as a global trade hub.
- Background: Dubai is the Middle East's business hub and is already home to the regional headquarters of several multinational firms. The government said it will also support 100 Dubai-based companies with international expansion.
- Why it matters: Dubai is facing increased competition from Saudi Arabia in attracting international business. The kingdom has given foreign firms until the end of 2023 to set up headquarters or risk losing out on government contracts.
What we're watching
The US has said that the issue of American Iranians held in the Islamic Republic is separate from its nuclear talks with Tehran, but it has also said that it is unlikely to reach a deal without their release. Iran has said it would consider a "hum