Iraqi prime minister under more pressure to deliver reforms

Now, Abdul-Mahdi, in office for only eight months, is facing the threat of being toppled even before his term is over.
Saturday 29/06/2019
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi speaks to journalists in Baghdad, June 11. (AP)
In hot water. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi speaks to journalists in Baghdad, June 11. (AP)

LONDON - Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi is under increasing pressure to deliver on the range of reforms he promised despite his success to fill three key ministerial positions that had been vacant since his appointment last October.

The Iraqi parliament voted on June 24 to approve naming Yassin al-Yassiri as interior minister, Najah al-Shammari as defence minister and Farouq Amin Othman as justice minister. The post of education minister, however, remained unfilled.

Influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose al-Islah (Reform) bloc is the largest in parliament, had recently threatened to withdraw his support for Abdul-Mahdi if the prime minister did not come up with acceptable ministerial candidates within ten days.

Previous candidates for the key posts were rejected by the Islah bloc in parliament because they were viewed as corrupt or too close to Iran. These candidates were suggested by the pro-Iran al-Binaa (Construction) bloc, the second largest in parliament, led by militia leader Hadi al-Amiri.

“Now Abdul-Mahdi can catch his breath until the next crisis,” Abdul Wahid Tuama, a political analyst, told Arab News. “The performance of the government will not change and the problems facing the prime minister will not be resolved.”

Iraqis have long complained of a lack of basic services, including electricity and drinking water, as well as job opportunities. They also accuse all branches of the state of being rampant with corruption and want a government that is willing to root it out.

Mass anti-government protests demanding anti-corruption reforms, job provisions and improvement in services rocked Basra province last year and occasionally spread to other areas in the country’s southern region.

Observers said public discontent with the government played a part in the electoral defeat of former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi when he sought a second term in 2018. After failing to meet protesters’ demands, Abadi lost the tacit backing of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as well as the political support of al-Sadr. His bloc is the third largest in parliament.

Now, Abdul-Mahdi, in office for only eight months, is facing the threat of being toppled even before his term is over. Abdul-Mahdi does not head his own parliamentary bloc; he was the consensus candidate of al-Sadr and Amiri. On June 14, Sistani criticised government shortcomings.

Al-Sadr took to Twitter on June 23 to renew his demands from the government and parliament. They include appointing government officials based on merit, not ethnic or sectarian background; improving public services; refraining from giving themselves raises, bonuses or perks; ensuring government policies are set by Iraqis for the interest of Iraq and do not come from across the border, in a reference to Iran; protecting peaceful protesters; keeping the promise of fighting corruption; protecting the country’s borders from terror and smuggling; and strengthening the country’s security forces to prevent armed sectarians from imposing their will on the people, in a reference to the country’s militias.

Having failed to appoint key ministers over seven months, it is unlikely that Abdul-Mahdi would be able to meet al-Sadr’s demands anytime soon.

In addition to pressure to deliver reforms from the Iraqi street, al-Sadr and Sistani, Abdul-Mahdi is now also facing a new opposition bloc in parliament. Abadi’s al-Nasr (Victory) Alliance and Ammar al-Hakim’s Hikma (Wisdom) Movement recently announced that they are forming an opposition to the government.

Members of the Sairoon (Marchers) Alliance, which is loyal to al-Sadr, said they are contemplating joining that opposition bloc should Abdul-Mahdi fail to deliver on his promises.

“Sairoon Alliance will carry out the questioning of the prime minister on his government programme and the reform plans set by al-Sadr. If he has valid justifications [for his actions], we will continue to support him; otherwise, we will take a different stance vis-a-vis the government, which we will announce later on,” Ghaib al-Amiri, a member of parliament for Sairoon, told Al-Monitor.

In media circles, Abadi is already being discussed as possibly being Iraq’s next prime minister should Abdul-Mahdi step down.

“Sairoon and other political groups have asserted that Abadi might be the most likely successor should Mr. Adel Abdul-Mahdi resign from the premiership,” Ihsan al-Shammari, a political pundit who has worked as a media adviser to Abadi, told Rudaw English.

The opposition bloc, however, has itself come under criticism. The Hikma Movement is reportedly lobbying for government posts while declaring itself as an opposition party. It already has one governor in office as well as five director-generals in a number of ministries.

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