Iraqis Frustrated over Pace and Substance of Abadi’s Reform Efforts

Photo Credit: Reuters Photo Credit: Reuters/ Khalid al Mousily

Following last summer’s protests that called for political changes, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi outlined reform measures meant to address Iraq’s bloated ministries, sectarian quotas for top government positions, and prosecution of corrupt officials. Yet, in a televised speech last week, Abadi confirmed that “lawmakers and their political groups have failed to unite and provide leadership.” “To lead the country to safety,” he stated, “I call for a major cabinet reshuffle to include technocratic and academic ministers, and I call on parliament and the political blocs to cooperate with us in this dangerous phase.”

According to Reuters, Abadi has also been seeking help from foreign experts to diversify Iraq’s economy and invest in human and natural resources. He reportedly called for a “comprehensive review of laws related to the economy, finance and state administration.”

These changes are welcome by those who see it as part of Abadi’s efforts to strengthen the government’s territorial claim and leadership authority over Iraqi provinces in the battle against the Islamic State. Others predict it will further polarize Iraq’s political landscape, as “Abadi will now have to deal with open hostility from powerful political groups, including some from within his own ruling coalition,” according to Wathiq al-Hashimi, chairman of the Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies. Hashimi underlined that “None of the parties will agree with him in changing their ministers and they will hit back with a motion of no confidence against Abadi.” Ahmed Rasheed and Stephen Kalin similarly argued that, “By replacing ministers chosen on the basis of party affiliation or ethnic or sectarian identity, Abadi risks disturbing the delicate balance of Iraq’s governing system in place since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 which toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.”

Others, like Abdul Rahman al-Luwaizi of the Sunni National Forces Alliance think that it is too late for “real government reform” as the popular and religious support from Grand Ayatollah Sistani is at “its lowest level” while Iraqi politics are witnessing a resurgence in religious influence.

It has become apparent, however, that Abadi’s proposed are unlikely to lead to a unified, more compact parliament as promised. On January 25, “Abadi confirmed that a shuffle would be limited to ministerial changes and exclude the elimination or merger of ministries,” a proclamation that angered Iraqis, particularly the Popular Movement.

“Abadi has disappointed the protesters and did not introduce any real reforms. He is only throwing dust in our eyes,” Jassem Hilfi, a member of the Baghdad protest coordinating committee, told Al-Monitor. “It appears that Abadi remains unable to respond to the protesters’ demands and thus continues to lose whatever public and religious support he has left.” This makes Abadi “vulnerable to the possibility of losing the people’s trust” and ultimately being replaced by another candidate acceptable to Shiite parties, explained Al-Monitor’s Omar Sattar. Many predict that this volatile political environment and the worsening financial crisis will incite “unprecedented protests” and further demand for change within Iraqi politics.