May 2, 2016 in Baghdad, Iraq
BY EUGEN VON BÖHM-BAWERKON APRIL 30, 2016
As expected, PM Abadi was always going to come off worse in his last ditch attempt to try and regain some kind of political initiative by appointing a new look ‘technocratic’ government in Baghdad. But the ailing Prime Minister has managed to back himself into a particularly tight corner after being outplayed by Muqtada al Sadr, Iyad Allawi and even Nouri Al Maliki. Rather than sticking to his ‘technocratic guns’ Abadi blinked first on cabinet changes, by allowing more traditional ‘muhasasa’ (i.e. quota based) politics to play through, falling back on the so called ‘three presidencies’ agreement between himself, President Fuad Masum, and parliamentary speaker, Salim al-Jiburi. The move’s since been condemned as protecting ‘establishment’ interest compared to more ‘comprehensive change’ that Maliki, Sadr and Allawi are all pitching. For those well versed in Iraqi politics, you’ll realise just how perverted that political situation is, but the key point to register is Mr. Abadi is now a totally lame duck PM. Whether he can stagger on to 2018 elections looks increasingly unlikely. If anything, the only thing keeping him in post right now is the simple issue that political factions aren’t in a credible position to decide on an instant successor. That, and the blunt fact that Iran is working behind the scenes to line up a far more ‘client orientated’ PM next time round at the political level, with exactly the same Persian positioning for the next Grand Ayatollah at the ‘theocratic level’. For better or worse, Abadi is no more than an interim Iranian (and to some extent US) placeholder at this stage.
Obviously when we say ‘gamble’ everything is relative in Iraq. In reality things had got so bad for Mr. Abadi that he didn’t have any choice but to attempt a ‘technocratic coup’ amid a spate of public protests and simmering intra-Shia rivalries. That’s exactly the same political tiger Mr. Abadi’s been riding since 2014 to try and appease popular concerns on basic goods, power, water and jobs on the one hand, all retarded by inter-sectarian, and more notably, intra-sectarian divides in Iraq on the other. That was always a dangerous animal to ride, and especially with the likes of Sadr (Peace Brigades), Hakim (ISCI), Badr and the residual influence of Maliki (Dawa) all poised to go in for the intra-Shia kill as and when the time came. Unfortunately for Mr. Abadi, the clock has just stopped. He can’t rally support within the State of Law coalition, let alone more discrete ranks of Dawa to his cause at this late technocratic stage. Relations with the Kurds are similarly vexed, where vying factions within the KRG are using Abadi’s weakness to progress their own autonomous interests. That’s all the way down to operational control of Kirkuk Oil Company, prompting further supply cuts from Baghdad to choke off Northern revenues, and more importantly, keep some notion of a ‘unitary’ Iraq in place.
Needless to say that remains a losing long term battle, but from here, we expect Abadi to face more calls to resign to pave the way for fresh elections. On balance, those calls will be narrowly dismissed, not because Abadi has any political capital left to appoint a new cabinet, but because a dearth of consensus over who’d replace him. Iran is more than happy to keep Abadi in post to bring Iraq to its knees, while the US won’t want the horrifying nightmare of orchestrating an Iraqi election before US Presidential elections are out the way. Fall short on the 2018 dates, and you’ll merely highlight the ingrained presence ISIS still has in Iraq, amid inexorable state collapse. What we’ll see instead is endless political crises, with far greater factionalism, with more violence between and within sectarian groups to protect respective turfs amid ongoing government quota debates, fiscal ‘challenges’ and opportunistic land grabs, either amongst themselves, or picking up new ‘real estate’ wherever ISIS sees temporal rolled back. For cynics (aka realists) that pretty much describes what’s happening around Abadi anyway, where ‘Popular Mobilisation Units’ are rapidly morphing into an Iraqi version of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, while Badr and ISCI continue to cement control of Southern production when it comes to military hardware and boots on the Basra / Misan ground. Admittedly not everyone’s signed up to every Iranian edict, least of all Mr. Sadr who’s keen to carve out some form of ‘local autonomy’. But beyond day to day Shia spats, the overall direction of travel remains undeniably Persian in a weakened Iraq. On that note it’s going to be a very long summer for Abadi. Not only does he have to find some way of keeping his notional seat in pernicious Baghdad politics, he has to brace for major bouts of social unrest over failed reforms in the summer blaze when his same ‘political tiger’ will roar once more. Water and electricity will go into short supply, but not as short as Mr. Abadi’s political capital. What little he had left, is spent. The strange death of Mr. Abadi has happened.