Iraq’s ruling Shia alliance unravels months ahead of elections

For members of his faltering coalition, Abadi is not so much a threat as a liability in the way of PMU candidates.
December 10, 2017

Notwithstanding the praise Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi has garnered across newspaper pages, the State of Law Coalition he heads is unravel­ling.

Abadi has done well to preserve a semblance of control as prime min­ister before international audienc­es; beneath the surface, however, more troublesome issues boil.

The souring of once-amicable relations between factions that form Iraq’s governing Shia alliance speaks to defections many an­ticipated and the formation of new political blocs, months before Iraqis pour into polling stations.

Despite his riding the tide of victories against the Islamic State (ISIS), Abadi’s competitors remain uninspired by his re-election bid. The ascent of militia outfits has seen Abadi’s weakness exploited, as alarming concessions are made to Iraq’s umbrella militia organisation — the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU). An equal pay bill approved by parliament bridges the differ­ence in salary between Iraq’s armed forces and militia groups — render­ing the two into equal counterparts.

After all, “there is not a single bloc that does not have a Hashed force,” a Badr Corps commander told the Financial Times in March 2016.

As important as recent victories against ISIS are, they must not dis­tract from the sea of discontent in which hope for the future has been lost. Turning the situation around rests on a great deal more than Abadi’s public and international support.

Abadi’s fiercest competitor is predecessor Nuri al-Maliki, who was dislodged from his throne three years ago. Interestingly, the two men’s ideological commitment is one. Both are members of Iraq’s formerly outlawed Dawa Party and, though Abadi served as Maliki’s deputy for four years, he is not im­mune to Maliki’s scorn.

Since agreeing to step down, politics for Maliki has become an exercise in backroom discussions to promote Iran sympathetic candi­dates who can surmount Abadi.

These strategies are reminiscent of Maliki’s 2010 game plan dur­ing Iraq’s parliamentary elections, when Iyad Allawi’s Sunni- and Shia-backed Iraqiya bloc’s slim victory was rejected by Maliki as unconsti­tutional.

A simple yet all-important dif­ference however sets Allawi apart from Abadi: The latter and Maliki belong to the same political school while Allawi, though Shia, does not share any ideology or political standpoint.

The distinction Western analysts employ to frame Abadi as respected and Maliki as feared is useful for propaganda purposes to protect for­eign interests but has not protected Abadi from falling out of favour with his coalition.

The situation was predicted by Sunni lawmaker Hamed Mutleg two years ago when he said “there’s nothing impossible about Maliki coming back.”

Western analysts canvassing for Abadi often stumble down the rabbit hole for failing to recognise his unpopularity. For members of his faltering coalition, Abadi is not so much a threat as a liability in the way of PMU candidates. His weak­nesses rule him out as a competi­tor whose tenure and grand plans for reform have been consistently ridiculed or derailed.

Another of Abadi’s competitors, head of the Badr Corps Hadi al- Ameri, last year told the Financial Times that Abadi’s grand reform promises were “a lie” because they would not reverse Iraq’s economic fortunes.

Hanan Fatlawi, another vocal opponent, underscored Abadi’s vulnerability, accusing him of fail­ure to impose his will and govern effectively.

Less than subtle hints peppered a recent interview given by Ameri with Al Forat TV, a satellite station owned by Ameri’s political bloc. Asked by the presenter if he was prepared to head the coalition, Ameri said “the priority goes to our brother Nuri al-Maliki.”

“Most Dawa MP’s stand with Maliki… a consensus that ought to be respected,” he said. “We weren’t the ones who chose or brought Abadi into power.”

Behind Ameri’s remarks is a veiled threat that if Maliki doesn’t head the coalition, Badr will. The foreign policy leanings of both camps are antithetical to US objec­tives in the country.

Ameri has also warned the United States that its troops may be forced out of Iraq by way of parliamentary decree.

“Not a single soldier” will be allowed to remain, Ameri told PressTV, negating the help the United States has shown militia units.

The approach of tolerance Abadi has practised with the United States, however, has only acceler­ated his downfall.

The end of ISIS myth that camps — pro-Abadi and others — propagate has been exposed as a booster seat they have outgrown. Instead, rising factions are seeking new ways that make their disentanglement from political life impossible.

The reality is there can be no eradication of ISIS if the conditions it feeds off remain.

The present scenario is in many ways a replay of 2014 after Abadi — backed by the Americans and Saudis — replaced Maliki as prime minister, who will be testing his damaged political credentials for the fourth time next May.