Abadi champions reforms but his target is Maliki

Friday 28/08/2015
Settling scores?

Iraq’s former prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, was in neigh­bouring Iran in mid-August, attending a major Shia confer­ence, meeting top officials and granting interviews. It was a good time to be away.
Political and anti-corruption reforms launched by Maliki’s suc­cessor, Haider al-Abadi, were an evident attempt to eradicate the cronyism and sectarianism that marked Maliki’s eight years as head of government.
In addition, the parliament in Baghdad had just approved a re­port blaming Maliki and other of­ficials for the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State (ISIS) in June 2014.
Maliki topped a list of more than 30 senior officials accused in parliament’s security commit­tee report of alleged negligence in choosing corrupt officers who failed to adequately confront the ISIS threat. However, despite the threat by parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabouri that “no one is above the law and accountability”, there were doubts in Baghdad that Ma­liki would ever face trial.
He dismissed the report as worthless and lashed out at his do­mestic critics, switching the blame on Turkey and the Kurdish Re­gional Government in Erbil for the Mosul debacle. Maliki used the Iran trip to blame almost everyone but himself for the ISIS phenomenon.
“ISIS was a movement created by certain regional states, headed by Saudi Arabia, with sectarian and political goals,” he told an Iranian news agency. “ISIS is supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as An­kara sought to overthrow President (Bashar) Assad’s government,” he claimed.
At the opening session of the Shia conference, a meeting of the Ahl al-Bayt World Assembly, he went further, accusing Israel and Saudi Arabia of plotting the break-up of Iraq. “Today we are witness­es to the coalition of Zionism and Wahhabism against the resistance axis and this is a civil war, as they use local facilities in the Islamic countries,” Maliki said. “Therefore, in order to defeat it, we need to use all our state facilities, legal appara­tus and mass media.”
For all the bluster, there was little disguising the fact that Maliki was on the back foot after operating as a divisive éminence grise during the first year of his successor’s term.
The critical report on Mosul has been passed on to legal authorities and could theoretically lead to ac­tion against Maliki, while Abadi’s decision to trim a range of top posts — broadly reflecting Iraq’s sectarian divide — strips Maliki of his post as one of three vice-presidents.
Maliki has publicly backed the reforms that were announced after weeks of popular demonstrations against corruption and shortages of electricity and fresh water, exac­erbated by a blistering summer.
Abadi also moved to trim the swollen ranks of ministerial aides and advisers to demonstrate his willingness to initiate long-needed reforms.
This also allowed him to get rid of troublesome rivals.
If Maliki had been tempted to challenge the reforms or stir Shia opposition against them, he was trumped by an intervention from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s senior and widely revered Shia spiritual guide, who endorsed the moves and urged Abadi to “strike with an iron fist” those in­volved in corruption. That has won Abadi widespread popular Shia support for the reforms, which par­liament has backed, and his chal­lenge is now to make them work before potential opponents have the opportunity to exploit any fail­ure.
Sistani was also quoted as saying abuse of power by Iraqi politicians who had failed to consider the in­terests of the Iraqi people had fos­tered the progress of ISIS. “If true reform is not realised by fighting corruption without mercy and real­ising social justice on different lev­els, it is expected that circumstanc­es will become worse,” he warned.
With Maliki ostensibly left out in the cold, and possibly facing prose­cution over Mosul, there was spec­ulation he might prolong his stay in Iran. However, he returned home August 19th and encountered no problems re-entering Iraq, accord­ing to his spokesman.
Asked about his political future, Maliki told a Tehran Times reporter that he was happy to sacrifice his official role so reforms could go ahead in response to the popular protests.
He claimed the Iraqi government had been seeking an opportunity to institute reforms for years “but there were a lot of problems and challenges that were compounded by sectarianism crises, terrorist groups and the interference of for­eign countries in Iraq’s internal af­fairs”.
He gave no indication, however, that he was ready to withdraw from Iraqi politics. He remains head of the State of Law coalition, the larg­est single bloc in parliament. “A real politician” did not just derive his power from holding an official position, he said in Iran in a clear signal he has no intention of bow­ing out.