More problems ahead for Abadi despite progress recapturing Falluja

Sunday 19/06/2016
Iraqi security forces celebrate as they hold an ISIS flag they captured in central Falluja, on June 17th.

Amman - The victory over Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Falluja provides a window of opportunity for embat­tled Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to mend fences with powerful Shia clerics who have grown increasingly disgruntled with the premier dragging his feet on long overdue reforms.

Abadi is generally seen as a bash­ful politician hesitant to pursue seri­ous reforms, anxious that he would hit a wall if he digs deep into state corruption that allegedly involves top serving and ex-government offi­cials, including some affiliated with the Shia clergy.

In the wake of angry street pro­tests, Abadi took shaky steps to tackle corruption, enraging the clergy who publicly cast doubt on his ability to run the country. They were specifically irked by his hesi­tation to press ahead with tangible reforms to ease street rage and ul­timately protect the interests and continued survival of the clerics in the political hierarchy.

In an impromptu address June 17th on state television, Abadi rushed to announce victory in Fal­luja.

“We promised you the liberation of Falluja and we retook it. Our se­curity forces control the city except for small pockets that need to be cleared within the coming hours,” Abadi said, surrounded by four se­curity officials.

“Falluja has returned to the na­tion and Mosul is the next battle,” Abadi later said in a tweet that went viral. He was referring to Iraq’s sec­ond largest city in the north, which remains under ISIS control.

“Daesh will be defeated,” he add­ed, using the jihadists’ Arabic acro­nym.

Political scientist Jawad al-Tae said Abadi “wants to capitalise on the victory in Falluja to prove he’s tough enough and a hero liberating Iraqi land of the enemy”.

“The gains will soon be forgotten if he fails to address other hot issues awaiting him,” observed Tae, a re­tired University of Baghdad profes­sor

The stakes are high for Abadi.

Oil revenues are off because of receding oil prices, depriving a country that sits atop the world’s second largest known oil reserves of desperately needed cash. It is ru­moured that corrupt officials have squandered billions in oil revenues.

With a record deficit and high borrowing, capital expenditure is squeezed. Therefore, infrastructur­al projects are expected to remain on hold, contrary to Abadi’s prom­ises to protesters that electricity blackouts will stop, streets will be paved and maintained and the qual­ity of water, health care and educa­tion will improve.

Falluja, one of the first Iraqi cities that the jihadists captured in Janu­ary 2014, is especially important. It lies 60km west of Baghdad, Abadi’s seat of power.

The area, part of the vast western Anbar province, is a bastion for in­surgents among Iraq’s rival Sunni minority, which accuses successive Shia-dominated cabinets of ostra­cising it since the collapse of the re­gime of Saddam Hussein in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Some of Falluja’s tribal leaders sided with ISIS due to previous mis­treatment by the government. Pre­viously, the area was a hotbed for ISIS’s predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq. The city, which had a population of 300,000 before ISIS captured it, is called the “City of Mosques” for the 200 places of worship in the area. Falluja’s Sunni Muslim scholars are highly influential but known for their tendency for a more hard-line interpretation of Islamic doctrine.