Al-Abadi walks a tightrope

Al-Abadi walks a tightrope

Al-Abadi walks a tightrope
The task of Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi of forming an inclusive government is far from being easy. Dismantling the legacy of his predecessor and maintaining the support of the various Shiite factions will be a daunting task.
To be sure, the Sunni forces in Iraq seek to reverse the policies of Nuri Al-Maliki. For instance, the Sunnis’ demands include: Freeing tens of thousands of imprisoned Sunnis (many of them were jailed without trial in the name of fighting terrorism); greater say in politics by assuming some sovereign ministries such as defense, finance, or interior); and reversing the policy of purging Sunni officers from security forces. Interestingly, there is no agreement among Shiites political factions on whether to respond to these demands and how much.
It is not clear yet if Al-Abadi will be able to meet all these demands. There are some Shiite forces that are opposed to give in to the Sunni demands. Not a while ago, Sunni leaders blamed Shiite militias for the massacre of dozens of Sunni worshipers during Friday prayers in Diyala province. In response to this unprovoked massacre, Sunni leaders withdrew from negotiations over forming the new government. Therefore, sectarian bloodletting will continue to be a challenge for the new prime minister.
Unlike Al-Maliki (who alienated not only the Kurds and the Sunnis but also many Shiites), Al-Abadi seems to enjoy wider backing from Shiite forces. Despite the support, Al-Abadi will find himself alienating some Shiite factions in his efforts to meet Sunni demands. One of Al-Abadi’s problems is that he is representing the Da’wa Party and the State of Law Coalition, which won 92 seats in April’s parliamentary elections. It remains to be seen how he can please his party without running the risk of alienating other Shiite factions.
Granted, Al-Abadi’s mission will not be free of external impact. He needs to take into account the Iranian influence among the Shiite factions. Obviously, Tehran views the Shiite as a counterweight force to Sunni Arab rivals. Additionally, it seems that Iran will not easily give up on its benefits from America’s gambling in Iraq. It was the United States who ousted Iran’s ardent enemy — the Ba’ath regime — and helped instill a pro-Iran Shiite government. By the time the US withdrew from Iraq in 2011, Iran managed to muster greater influence on most of the Shiite factions.
If anything, Tehran seeks to ensure that Iraq will not pose a threat to Iranian interests in the future. Hence, it is natural for Iran to push for a friendly government in Baghdad. Given the fact that Iran still has great influence over key Shiite factions, Al-Abadi needs the backing of Tehran if he wishes to stay in power. Yet, as the domestic rivalry in Iraq has ebbed and flowed. Now with the rise of the Islamic State, the central government as well as Iran feels threatened. The threat posed by the Islamic State is not going to disappear quickly. Although President Obama ordered airstrikes against militants in north of Iraq, he is still not decisive in dealing with the Islamic State. In fact the American administration lacks a strategy in dealing with the Islamic State. In Obama’s words, “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse: We don’t have a strategy yet.”
In a nutshell, Al-Abadi needs to balance all pressures coming from different directions. It is one thing that you get nominated for the position of premiership and another thing to work out a working coalition to rule Iraq. Al-Abadi understands that he enjoys the backing of the West and Iran. And yet, forming a government that can restore peace — in a country fraught with deep internal crises and regional proxy war — will be a difficult task.

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