Iraqi militiaman reinstated in key security post, parliament in deadlock

Iraq’s parliament approves three new ministers but the deadlock over several key ministries unresolved.
Tuesday 18/12/2018
Iraqi national security advisor Faleh al-Fayad is seen in the Syrian capital Damascus, in 2017. (SANA via AFP)
Iraqi national security advisor Faleh al-Fayad is seen in the Syrian capital Damascus, in 2017. (SANA via AFP)

BAGHDAD — The former head of Iraq’s Iran-linked Popular Mobilization militias returned to his dual posts as chairman of the militias and national security adviser to Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, despite objections from politicians who are critical of Tehran.  

Faleh al-Fayyadh retook his seat at a meeting of Iraq’s National Security Council on December 16 after he was sacked from his positions by caretaker prime minister Haidar al-Abadi in August for political behaviour.

Al-Fayyadh has also been nominated to head the country’s powerful Interior Ministry, which has been under the control of ministers close to Iran since 2010. His nomination has been opposed by the political bloc of populist Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which says it wants to limit outside influence in Iraqi politics.

The Popular Mobilization Forces were formed in 2014 to stop the advance of Islamic State group militants through Iraq. They include several militias funded and trained by Iran.

Iraq’s government has been deadlocked as politicians spar over appointments for several key ministries, including the Interior and Defence. The Interior Ministry has been under the control of ministers close to Iran since 2010.

Iraq’s parliament approved three new ministers on December 18 but broke up before voting on the five remaining posts, leaving the deadlock over several key ministries unresolved.

The brief session brings to 17 the number of filled posts in Abdel-Mahdi’s 22-ministry cabinet. The other 14 were approved by parliament in late October.

New Higher Education Minister Qusay al-Suheil, 53, is a member of former premier Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc.

Planning Minister Nuri al-Dulaimi, 51, is an Iraqi Islamic Party member while Minister of Culture Abdulamir Al-Hamdani, a 51-year-old archaeologist, is backed by pro-Iran force Asaib Ahl al-Haq.

After the speedy vote, legislators adjourned their session to December 20.

The five empty posts include the powerful ministers of defence and interior, seen as the primary stumbling blocks to a full cabinet.

Abdel-Mahdi has proposed Faysal al-Jarba and Faleh al-Fayyadh as ministers of defence and interior respectively, both backed by parties close to Iran.

But rival Sunni political parties are deeply divided over Jarba.

Saeroon, the coalition headed by populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the largest bloc in parliament, is fiercely opposed to Fayyadh’s nomination.

Last week, he told journalists the ongoing dispute over the unfilled ministries was “not his decision.”

“We were free to choose eight or nine ministers, and the rest are the results of political agreements,” he said.

“When it comes to the interior and defence, these were the choices of the political blocs, not of the premier.”

Al-Fayadh’s return as national security adviser and chairman of the PMF could soon break the deadlock over the remaining appointments, said Hussein Allawi, director of Baghdad-based Akkad Center for Strategic Affairs and Future Studies.

“This gives Abdul-Mahdi an opportunity to name a new nominee to the Interior Ministry,” said Allawi.

As government formation drags on, observers have wondered whether Abdel-Mahdi could step down, further destabilising a country struggling to rebuild after three years of fighting against the Islamic State group.

(AW and agencies)