Kadhimi strives to shore up government credibility through test cases
BAGHDAD –Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi is quietly but steadily working to establish the rule of law in state institutions, setting an unprecedented example of humility and responsiveness for government leaders.
In dealing with three major incidents in the past two weeks, Kadhimi demonstrated his exceptional crisis management capabilities, responding swiftly and firmly to emergencies.
The first incident occurred when Iraqi security forces killed protesters in Tahrir Square early last week during a demonstration calling for political reform and state services. Just hours after the incident, Kadhimi addressed the nation and pledged to release the identities of the killers within 72 hours.
Shortly before the deadline expired, Kadhimi’s official spokesman appeared at a press conference and, in a unique and unprecedented move, revealed the names and ranks of the killers and confirmed that orders had been issued for their arrest.
The Tahrir Square incident was a particularly important test for Kadhimi. Upon taking office as prime minister, he pledged to hold those responsible for the killing of 700 protesters and wounding of some 20,000 others in October 2019 during the term of his predecessor, Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
Kadhimi’s response to the Tahrir Square incident was well received by protesters and activists and taken as evidence of a profound change in government behaviour towards the protest movement, which was viewed as a pressure tool to achieve positive change rather than a threat to the political system.
A few days after this incident, a video clip showing members of the Law Enforcement Brigade at Tahrir Square brutalising a teenager accused of throwing stones at security forces went viral on social media networks.
This brigade was formed during the term of Abdul-Mahdi’s government. The clip showed some of its members shaving the youth’s head with a cutter and wounding his scalp in the process while heaping abject insults on him and his mother.
The scenes and the verbal abuse inflamed the feelings of Iraqis who began clamouring for the arrest of the perpetrators. Activists denounced the violence of the security forces but pointed out the difficulty of bringing the perpetrators to justice given their association with powerful parties and militias connected to Iran.
Kadhimi, for his part, did not hesitate to initiate an urgent investigation that led to the arrest of everyone involved in the incident.
The prime minister did not stop at simply applying the law but went further in repairing the damage. He received the assaulted juvenile and his mother and officially apologising to them on his behalf and on behalf of the state. He also gave orders to have the state bear the attorney fees for the juvenile accused of motorcycle theft.
Activists and demonstrators wrote that they felt that in doing so, the prime minister had apologised to them as well for all the abuse they suffered during the October protests at the hands of security forces and pro-Iranian militias.
The third incident proving Kadhimi’s willingness to listen to the concerns of the street and public opinion in Iraq was a mini-scandal caused at Baghdad International Airport by a relative of Transport Minister Nasser Bandar al-Shibli.
Following this incident, Kadhimi did not hesitate to take a series of measures against the minister.
Here too, video footage shared on social media showed a number of passengers on an Iraqi Airways plane complaining bitterly of having to wait for about an hour in extreme heat because the plane was being delayed to wait for the son of an official who was a passenger on the flight.
Some of the passengers addressed Kadhimi directly, calling on him to intervene to stop officials and their kin from disrupting the schedule of Iraqi Airways flights.
Iraqi bloggers did not miss the opportunity to recall a previous incident in which a plane that took off from Baghdad was turned back soon after to pick up the son of Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Organisation who was then transportation minister.
Kadhimi reacted quickly and issued orders for a detailed administrative investigation in the case of the delayed flight that resulted in the demotion of some employees, in accordance with the law.
This incident too received widespread popular attention, and observers said that Kadhimi was seeking to accumulate small successes, with the aim of persuading a sceptical public that significant change has already occurred at the level of the state and its policies.
Observers believe that the prime minister is going to need the broadest public support possible if he decides to raise the ceiling of confrontation with the forces that hijacked the Iraqi state and dominated its decision for years under the constant threat of rogue weapons.
The three recent incidents cannot be separated from the context of the fraying of the Iraqi state during the era of Abdul-Mahdi, as it virtually surrendered to the pro-Iranian militia leaders.
The first casualties of Kadhimi’s policies aimed at establishing the rule of law in the country are likely to be those militias whose strong reactions may be expected.