Fears of new ‘deep state’ in Iraq as factions fight for key jobs

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, center, has to send a list of nominees to Parliament by the end of June for approval. (Getty Images)
Updated 26 June 2019

Fears of new ‘deep state’ in Iraq as factions fight for key jobs

  • About 5,000 high-profile positions are supposed to be filled by nominees who will act independently of political parties
  • The political party or parliamentary bloc that controls these positions is expected to effectively dominate the Iraqi state for the next 10 to 15 years

BAGHDAD: Political factions in Iraq are waging a secret battle to gain control of thousands of key government and agency jobs in a bid to tighten their grip on power and exert as much political influence as possible, according to lawmakers and analysts.
About 5,000 high-profile positions, including heads of independent government agencies, deputy ministers, heads of universities, deans, ambassadors, diplomats, and commanders of military divisions and security services, are supposed to be filled by nominees who will act independently of political parties.
However, until now they have been filled mostly by proxies of the leading parties, primarily the Islamic Dawa Party, which “was representing the main structure of the deep state built by former prime ministers,” lawmakers said.
There is growing concern that far from dismantling the “deep state,” the latest appointees will simply replace it with another that is even stronger.
Under the 2019 annual budget law, all the posts must be filled by the end of June. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has to send a list of nominees to Parliament by then for approval.The political party or parliamentary bloc that controls these positions will effectively dominate the Iraqi state for the next 10 to 15 years, because the access they provide to the departments they represent will help to serve the personal agendas of any leader, analysts said.
“These posts are not political and they are much more important for the political parties than the ministries, so they are ready to sacrifice anything to get a share of them,” Rahman Al-Joubori, a researcher at the Center for Regional Studies at the American University in Sulaimaniyah, told Arab News.
“Each of the parties has strategically planned to get this department or that department as compensation for the ministries that they gave up, and because some of them are eyeing the same departments or trying to get more than their share, disputes have erupted.”
Iraqi political groups have adopted a power-sharing system since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Each party is supposed to receive a share of the available positions proportional to the number of seats it holds in Parliament. They can submit candidates to fill these posts regardless of the required professional standards or qualification.
The Islamic Dawa Party, which has led four of the six governments in power during the past 16 years, has controlled most of the most important positions and organizations by appointing its followers to run them by proxy, bypassing Parliament and preventing rivals from getting their share.
Former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who led two of the four Dawa governments, frustrated his political rivals, including his successor Haider Abadi, by controlling the acting directors of the most important, or advanced, jobs, especially those related to security and inspections.
“The Dawa party, represented by Al-Maliki, created the deep state and rooted it in the Iraqi state after 2006 by taking over most of the advanced positions,” a prominent Shiite leader involved in the current talks to allocate these positions told Arab News.
“In addition to the human and financial resources provided by these positions, it is an effective tool to terminate opponents, control the core of the state, and destabilize its economy and security whenever it is needed.”

 

The General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, which is responsible for submitting candidates to fill the positions, formed a committee to allocate the jobs two months ago. Its members include the secretary-general of the Cabinet, the director of the prime minister’s office, and representatives of the most prominent Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political forces in the government and Parliament. The commission has been meeting almost daily, but nominees have been agreed for only a few dozen positions, according to the prime minister’s press office.
The disputes between the political factions began on the first day the committee met. Some members demanded positions with levels of importance incommensurate with the number of seats they hold, while others sought control of organizations that are of particular interest to their powerful blocs. These include Saeiroon, the political wing of Muqtada Al-Sadr, the influential Shiite cleric; and the pro-Iranian Fatah alliance, which includes the Badr Organization, one of the most powerful Shiite armed factions, and Assaib Ahl Al-Haq, the second-most powerful Shiite armed faction.
Disagreements about the levels of the positions and the heads of independent agencies took a new turn when many committee members began to publicly complain.
Ammar Al-Hakim, leader of Al-Hikma and a prominent ally of Al-Sadr within the Reform parliamentary coalition, last week announced he was withdrawing from the coalition and joining the opposition in protest at the way the committee was distributing the jobs, and “the lack of access to the posts that he has been looking for.”
He was soon followed by another Al-Sadr ally, Haider Al-Abadi, whose Al-Nassir party also announced it would join the opposition because it refused the “quest (by some political parties) to form a new deep state, greater and deeper than the old one.”
“The coalition of Al-Nassir is backing (the efforts) to end the file of special grades as soon as possible, but must be resolved, in accordance with professionalism and efficiency standards, away from the parties,” Al-Nassir member Ali Al-Sineed said on Monday. “There are parties that want to control the special grades in order to create a new deep state, which (will be) deeper than the current one.”
Although Al-Sadr has publicly warned members of his bloc against “rooting the old deep state or building a new one,” and threatened to abandon them if they insist on a share of the positions, the committee still holds daily meetings in the presence of representatives of Saeiroon.
Hamad Al-Rikabi, a spokesman for Saeiroon, said on Monday that members of the political bloc are following Al-Sadr’s instructions to refrain from seeking any of the positions and work on “dismantling the deep state.”
Badr, Al-Nassir, Al-Hikma and Assaib all issued statements last week confirming that they would not seek any special-grade or high-profile jobs to which they are not entitled based on power-sharing agreements. However, behind the scenes, all are still negotiating to grab a share of the positions, government sources said.
“All of them say that they are not seeking to get a share, but actually they are fighting to get them,” said an adviser to Abdul Mahdi.
“Saieroon, Assaib and Badr are at the forefront of other blocs that are working to get as many of these posts as they can. They say that they are working to dismantle the deep state of Al-Maliki by stripping the Dawa party of all the positions that have been under its control for 14 years , but the truth is that they will just replace it.
“They promised to nominate independents who had nothing to do with them, but that does not mean the nominees are not fully subservient to them.”

FASTFACTS

The Islamic Dawa Party, which has led four of the six governments in power during the past 16 years, has controlled most of the most important positions and organizations by appointing its followers to run them by proxy.


Trump: Mideast peace plan likely rolled out in days

Updated 24 January 2020

Trump: Mideast peace plan likely rolled out in days

JERUSALEM: President Donald Trump said Thursday that he’ll likely release the long-awaited White House Mideast peace plan before his meeting early next week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political rival Benny Gantz.
“It’s a great plan. It’s a plan that really would work,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One en route to a Republican Party meeting in Florida.
He said he was surprised that both Netanyahu and Gantz were willing to take a break from campaigning for the March 2 elections to join him Tuesday in Washington.
“They both would like to do the deal. They want to see peace,” Trump said. “Look, Israel wants peace, Palestinians want peace. They all want peace. Not everyone wants to say it.”
He said his administration has talked briefly to the Palestinians, who have rejected the administration’s peace plan before it even comes out.
“We’ve spoken to them briefly. But we will speak to them in a period of time,” Trump said. “And they have a lot of incentive to do it. I’m sure they maybe will react negatively at first, but it’s actually very positive to them.”
Vice President Mike Pence announced the invitation for Netanyahu and Gantz to visit during at a meeting with the prime minister in Jerusalem after addressing an international forum Thursday on the Holocaust. He said that at Netanyahu’s request, the invitation was also issued to Gantz, a former army chief.
The plan is expected to strongly favor Israel, and is unlikely to garner any international support if it is seen as undermining the prospect of a two-state solution.
“We have had no better friend than President Trump,” Netanyahu said. “With this invitation, I think that the president is seeking to give Israel the peace and security that it deserves.”
The Palestinians rejected Trump’s peace efforts after he recognized disputed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US Embassy there in May 2018. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 war and annexed, to be their capital.
“If this deal is announced with these rejected formulas, the leadership will announce a series of measures in which we safeguard our legitimate rights, and we will demand Israel assume its full responsibilities as an occupying power,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
He appeared to be referring to oft-repeated threats to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, which has limited autonomy in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. That would force Israel to resume responsibility for providing basic services to millions of Palestinians.
“We warn Israel and the US administration from crossing the red lines,” Abu Rdeneh said.
Israel’s Channel 12 TV, citing Israeli officials, said the plan is expected to be extremely favorable toward Israel and offer it control over large parts of the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians seek the entire territory, which was also captured by Israel in 1967, as the heartland of a future independent state. Most of the international community supports the Palestinian position.
Netanyahu has said he plans to annex the Jordan Valley as well as Jewish settlements across the West Bank, which would all but extinguish any possibility of creating a viable Palestinian state.
Netanyahu has tried to make that the cornerstone of his campaign for reelection following unprecedented back-to-back elections last year that left him in a virtual tie with Gantz, with neither able to cobble together a ruling coalition.
The deadlock was deepened by Netanyahu’s indictment last year on serious charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stemming from three long-running corruption investigations. Netanyahu has asked Israel’s parliament to grant him immunity.
Next week’s meeting could produce an awkward scene. Gantz has made Netanyahu’s indictment the focus of his campaign to oust the prime minister. And his Blue and White party is leading an effort in parliament to block Netanyahu’s immunity request before the election. At the same time, they will be joined by an impeached president who is being tried in the Senate.
The US was believed to be holding back on releasing the peace plan until Israel had a permanent government. Those calculations may have changed as the deadlock in Israeli politics looks to be further prolonged.
Trump may also be looking for a boost from evangelical and pro-Israel supporters as the Senate weighs whether to remove him from office after he was impeached last month, and as he gears up for a reelection battle this year.
Pence was among dozens of world leaders in Jerusalem on Thursday for the World Holocaust Forum. Many of the participants, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, also paid visits to the Palestinians in the West Bank.
A Palestinian official said Abbas asked the visiting French and Russian presidents to support the Palestinian position when the plan is published.
“He asked them to refuse and act against any Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing closed meetings.
While the plan is expected to be friendly to Israel, it could still face opposition from Netanyahu’s hard-line partners.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the ultranationalist Yamina party, called Trump a “true friend” of Israel and said the country likely stands before a “historic opportunity.” But he said his party would not allow the transfer of any land to Palestinian control or for a Palestinian state to be established.