The Man Who Would Not Be Maliki

by Dish Staff

Iraqi Minister of Communication Haider a

Adam Taylor provides some background on Iraqi prime minister-designate Haider al-Abadi:

Born in Baghdad in 1952, Abadi was educated at the University of Baghdad and later received a doctorate from the University of Manchester in Britain. He lived in Britain for many years after his family was targeted by Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime. He was trained as an electrical engineer, but he entered politics after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. He became minister of communications in the Iraqi Governing Council in September 2003, then was a key adviser to Maliki in Iraq’s first post-invasion elected government. Just weeks ago, he was elected deputy speaker of parliament, and he has been considered a contender for prime minister after the past two elections.

The bigger question, however, is whether Abadi will be able to overcome the challenges confronting Iraq more successfully than Maliki. Like Maliki, he’s a Shiite Muslim and is a member of the ruling State of Law coalition. One of the chief criticisms of Maliki was that he entrenched Iraq’s sectarian politics, filling the government with Shiite politicians and limiting Sunni and Kurdish power.

Eli Lake claims that Abadi’s nomination was the result of an American push for “regime change”:

The American push—which has not been previously reported—wasn’t the only factor that led to al-Abadi’s rise. Iraq’s deterioration in recent months led some of Maliki’s Shi’ite backers to pull their support of him. Last month, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most senior cleric of the Shi’ite sect, wrote a letter to Maliki asking him not to seek a third term as prime minister. But al-Abadi has been the United States’ preferred candidate since late June to replace Maliki, a man who Obama himself blamed over the weekend for creating the conditions for the current catastrophe that is engulfing Iraq. U.S. and Iraqi officials tell The Daily Beast that U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Robert Beecroft and Brett McGurk, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran, have pushed Iraqi politicians behinds the scenes to consider al-Abadi as a new Iraqi head of state.

Of course, the administration rejects that account. But Iran might also have had a hand in Abadi’s ascent, Saeed Kamali Dehghan suggests:

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran‘s powerful Supreme National Security Council, was quoted by the official IRNA news agency congratulating the Iraqi people and their leaders for choosing Haider al-Abadi as their new prime minister. … Hossein Rassam, a London-based Iranian analyst, said Shamkhani’s statement reflect Tehran’s hand in al-Abadi’s appointment: “His appointment could not have materialised without Iran’s cooperation. This is the result of a series of negotiations and bargaining for the past number of days, it’s not something that has been decided overnight.”

According to Rassam, Iran’s top priority in Iraq has been to avoid a power vacuum in Baghdad and ensure the appointment of a prime minister sympathetic to Tehran. “With Abadi’s appointment, Iran has achieved both,” he said.

Suadad al-Salhy takes the temperature of Iraq’s political parties. While Abadi’s nomination has divided the Shiites in parliament, Sunni Arab politicians see him as a major improvement over Maliki:

Iraq’s Sunni blocs, who are strongly opposed to Maliki, expressed their satisfaction at Ibadi’s nomination. “We are backing this nomination. What happened today was a big change,” said Mohammed Iqbal, a senior Sunni lawmaker. “We are blessed to nominate Ibadi. He is well-educated, efficient and has good relations with everyone, and there is no negative points registered against him with regard to his political history,” Iqbal told Al Jazeera.

Kurdish leaders added, however, that Ibadi must fix persisting problems between the Kurdish region and the central government, particularly arrangements over oil and gas revenues and the annual budget. Meanwhile, Iraqi Kurds, who are fighting Islamic State group fighters who have advanced towards Erbil, capital of the Kurdish region, over the last two weeks, said that they were not opposed to Ibadi.

The threat of a coup by Maliki still hangs over the transition. Josh Voorhees outlines what a disaster that would be:

The situation is unfolding rather quickly, but as of right now it appears that Maliki may do whatever it takes to stay in power, and that could mean a coup. For starters, such a move could throw Iraq back into a bloody civil war at a time when the government is struggling mightily to push back the advances of ISIS in the north. There are a number of factions within the Iraqi military, and it remains to be seen how each would align itself in the event that Maliki does attempt to use the nation’s military to hold on to power. But it is clear that any soldier engaged on either side of such a standoff would be one that wouldn’t be fighting ISIS.

“Maliki’s coup is good news for the Kurds and Yazidis, though,” Allahpundit reckons:

Until now, the White House has clung to the idea that Iraq should remain unified and that all aid, especially military aid, should go through the central government in Baghdad. That’s one reason why the Kurds are undersupplied; Maliki’s going to siphon off whatever he gets from the U.S. for Shiite use. Now that he’s betrayed Iraqi democracy, though, the White House can cut him loose, refuse to recognize his legitimacy, and deal directly with the Kurds.That means arms (and maybe military advisors?), and that means a Kurdistan that’s secure from ISIS. If Maliki wants southern Iraq to be a Iranian protectorate there’s little we can do to stop him, but we can help build a counterweight in the north. Let’s get on with it.

But Douglas Ollivant doubts Maliki will go through with it in the end:

Ollivant, who formerly served as the top Iraq policy official on the National Security Council, said there was “very little” the United States could do to push Maliki out of power, but he said he didn’t think the Iraqi leader would resort to violence to stay in office. “I really think it’s all done but the shouting,” Ollivant said. “He’s going to talk tough and play out his last legal card, but he doesn’t want to be an international pariah. If we pull away, his only friends would be Iran and Syria, and even Maliki doesn’t want that.”

Maliki is losing the support of the Iranian-backed Shiite militias, and has apparently withdrawn his loyalist forces back inside the Green Zone, so a coup attempt is indeed looking less likely. Even so, Kirk Sowell warns of some major political challenges ahead:

More broadly, Sunni provinces will have to deal with the fact that Shiite Islamists have an outright majority in parliament, and the next government, whatever its precise contours, will reflect this. But Nineveh, the heart of the battleground with IS, will be especially difficult: It has been the scene of almost constant violent conflict since 2003, in part due to the fact that under Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime, the Arab population was both a major recruitment source for the army and taught to view Kurds as an ethnic enemy. The Iraq Oil Report and others have reported that a number of local residents who aren’t Islamic militants are willing to work with IS for reasons of racial and sectarian enmity.

(Photo: Haider al-Abadi by Jean-Philippe Kziazek/AFP/Getty Images)