Real change in Iraq will require a magic wand
It has been tough for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to juggle things around.
Whether militarily to beef up security in Baghdad or politically to present a cabinet reshuffle acceptable to supporters and adversaries, Abadi has had little room to manoeuvre without upsetting other politicians or slowing the battle to rid Iraq of Islamic State (ISIS) militants.
In the latest mess, Abadi proposed a near-complete reshuffle of his cabinet, which politicians quickly rebuked as lacking the “technocrats” the prime minister had promised and the wider representation that had been expected, at least to incorporate some Kurds from Iraq’s northern autonomous areas.
Abadi’s March 31st announcement brought increased warnings from powerful Shia cleric Muqtada al- Sadr, whose followers have poured into Baghdad’s streets every Friday for several weeks in March in a show of force against Abadi. Al-Sadr is trying to reassert himself in the centre of Iraqi politics, to be portrayed as a choirmaster of reform and reconciliation.
“In a country gripped by conflict, deep sectarian and ethnic divisions and constant political strife, ambitious reforms are not an easy task,” observed Kamel al-Hadithi, a former political science lecturer at the University of Anbar.
“And, who said that what Abadi has in mind is similar or would satisfy al-Sadr?” he wondered.
Abadi has much more on his plate.
ISIS controls several Sunni Iraqi areas, including key cities on major supply lines linking its fighters in Iraq with those in neighbouring Syria.
There are hundreds of thousands of Iraqis displaced in ISIS’s violence or the sectarian strife that has shattered Iraq’s unity and threatens its division into three smaller states.
Iraq’s Sunni minority feels more desperate than ever, being isolated by successive Shia-dominated governments. Many Sunnis fear that expected reforms will further diminish their representation in national institutions.
Financially, Iraq’s Kurdish north has turned its back on an agreement regarding Iraqi oilfields in autonomous areas with the central government in Baghdad, depriving it of much-needed funds and aggravating a cash crunch caused by plummeting oil prices.
With such enormous challenges, one can safely assume that al-Sadr or others can ask and Abadi would oblige.
But for a real change to transpire will require a magic wand.