Iraq PM’s re­forms hin­dered by di­vi­sions amid IS threats

Bat­tle against Is­lamic State at stake

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BAGHDAD: Fac­ing re­sis­tance from within his own party, Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider Al-Abadi is strug­gling to sus­tain sup­port for a po­lit­i­cal shakeup he says is crit­i­cal to ef­forts to counter Is­lamic State mil­i­tants. In an at­tempt to re­gain mo­men­tum af­ter par­lia­ment last week blocked his gov­ern­ment from pass­ing im­por­tant re­forms with­out its ap­proval, Abadi reached out over the week­end to Iraq’s pow­er­ful Shi’ite Mus­lim es­tab­lish­ment, which has pre­vi­ously backed his anti-cor­rup­tion push.

But he re­turned from meet­ings with se­nior cler­ics in the sa­cred Shi­ite city of Na­jaf with­out se­cur­ing fresh sup­port, rais­ing the prospect of fur­ther iso­la­tion as he seeks to head off the threat of a no con­fi­dence vote by dis­grun­tled law­mak­ers. In Na­jaf, Abadi no­tably did not meet with Iraq’s top Shi­ite re­li­gious fig­ure, Grand Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Al-Sis­tani. Sis­tani and the other cler­ics have backed Abadi but seem to have be­come im­pa­tient with the slow pace of re­form. “It’s as though he is walk­ing through a mine­field,” said Bagh­dad­based po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Ahmed You­nis, cit­ing pres­sures from par­lia­ment, the pub­lic, and Shi­ite re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties. “He is now ob­li­gated to work in a way that pleases all sides.”

His­tory sug­gests he should pro­ceed with cau­tion. Abadi’s pre­de­ces­sor, Nuri Al-Ma­liki, was also per­ceived as a leader who did not con­sult be­fore tak­ing de­ci­sions. He was pushed out last sum­mer af­ter alien­at­ing his own party and fel­low Shi­ites, as well as Amer­i­can al­lies and re­gional power Iran, which has wide sway in Iraq. Iraq’s power bro­kers, in­clud­ing the Shi­ite re­li­gious es­tab­lish­ment, sup­ported Abadi as the new prime min­is­ter af­ter con­clud­ing he was a con­sen­sus builder who had a chance of heal­ing po­lit­i­cal and sec­tar­ian di­vi­sions.

The big­gest chal­lenge for Abadi is re­form­ing Iraq’s no­to­ri­ously cor­rupt mil­i­tary — which has largely col­lapsed in the face of Is­lamic State ad­vances-and stream­lin­ing a gov­ern­ment seen as in­ept. Em­bold­ened by pop­u­lar protests in Baghdad and other cities and a call for ac­tion by Sis­tani, Abadi uni­lat­er­ally launched a re­form cam­paign in Au­gust. He moved to dis­man­tle Iraq’s pa­tron­age sys­tem and root out in­com­pe­tence and cor­rup­tion un­der­min­ing the ma­jor OPEC oil ex­porter’s bat­tle against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants who have seized nearly a third of the coun­try’s ter­ri­tory. Those mea­sures soon got bogged down by le­gal chal­lenges and op­po­si­tion from en­trenched in­ter­ests. Frus­trated by in­ac­tion, pro­test­ers de­mand­ing an end to cor­rup­tion and bet­ter wa­ter and elec­tric­ity ser­vices be­gan to call Abadi weak and in­ef­fec­tive. Sis­tani has also ex­pressed dis­plea­sure with de­lays in en­act­ing re­forms, call­ing on Abadi to take bolder ac­tion in the face of re­sis­tance. Though the reclu­sive oc­to­ge­nar­ian rarely hosts politi­cians, a meet­ing in Na­jaf would have shored up Abadi against the in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar Ira­nian-backed Shi­ite mili­tias and politi­cians like Ma­liki, who have sought to main­tain priv­i­leges tar­geted by the re­forms.

Their aims are caus­ing a split among Iraq’s Shi­ite lead­ers, fur­ther frag­ment­ing a coun­try strug­gling to con­tain Is­lamic State, the big­gest se­cu­rity threat since a US-led in­va­sion top­pled au­to­crat Sad­dam Hus­sein in 2003. “It was a set­back,” Sami Askari, a law­maker from the rul­ing State of Law coali­tion, said of the Na­jaf trip. “I’m sure Abadi came back un­happy, be­cause if he had been able to see Sis­tani it would bal­ance all the move­ment of the par­lia­ment.” A spokesman for Abadi said no such meet­ing was ever re­quested, but a source close to the prime min­is­ter de­scribed the fact that he did not meet Sis­tani as “neg­a­tive”.

Faded man­date

With his once in­dis­putable man­date from the pro­test­ers and Sis­tani faded, Abadi may no longer be in a po­si­tion to chal­lenge those who op­pose his re­form drive. The tough­est de­mands could come from within his own State of Law coali­tion, which led last week’s vote as­sert­ing par­lia­ment’s au­thor­ity af­ter it de­manded wider con­sul­ta­tion from Abadi. While the law­mak­ers’ re­sis­tance is fo­cused on the re­forms, it stems from larger dis­agree­ments be­tween two camps in­side State of Law headed, re­spec­tively, by Abadi and Ma­liki.

Ma­liki’s sup­port­ers, who are al­lied with Iran, re­gard Abadi as too close to the United States, which arms and trains Iraqi forces and is lead­ing an air cam­paign against Is­lamic State. Ma­liki him­self is pop­u­lar with the Ira­nian-backed mili­tias, seen as a bul­wark against the Sunni in­sur­gents. “Abadi some­times feels that this is a threat to his au­thor­ity and he tried hard to weaken Ma­liki,” said Askari. Abadi has failed to en­force one of his main re­forms which would have re­moved Ma­liki and the two other vice pres­i­dents from their po­si­tions. In­stead Ma­liki is hold­ing on, set­ting him­self on a col­li­sion course with Abadi. “The more (Abadi) pres­sures Ma­liki, the more he will lose the sup­port of the State of Law,”said Askari.

State of Law mem­bers dis­miss spec­u­la­tion that Abadi has be­gun court­ing out­side par­ties to form a new coali­tion to sup­port his re­forms. They warn such a move would re­quire ma­jor con­ces­sions and ex­pose him to at­tacks from his own base. But law­mak­ers say Abadi may still need broader sup­port to en­sure his pro­pos­als pass through par­lia­ment smoothly and to pre­vent the pos­si­bil­ity of a vote of no con­fi­dence, which law­mak­ers have not ruled out. Back­ing from Shi­ite cler­ics Abadi met over the week­end, who are largely op­posed to Ma­liki, could prove crit­i­cal in any fu­ture con­fronta­tion, but this seems un­likely un­der present cir­cum­stances. Mean­while, back­ing from other Shi­ite groups, such as the Sadrists or the Is­lamic Supreme Coun­cil of Iraq, would en­able Abadi to block a coup from within his own elec­toral al­liance, said the source close to the prime min­is­ter. “It’s just to make sure that he’s got mem­bers in par­lia­ment that would block any move down the road to with­draw con­fi­dence,” the source said. “A smat­ter­ing of sup­port from the Kurds or from a Sunni party means you’re mak­ing sure they won’t reach the 60 per­cent they need. It’s a pre­emp­tive mo­tion.”— Reuters Gulf air strikes on Is­lamic State down due to Ye­men DUBAI: Air strikes by Gulf Arab mem­bers of the US-led coali­tion fight­ing the Is­lamic State group in Syria have di­min­ished since they launched an air war against Ye­meni rebels in March, a US gen­eral said yes­ter­day. Bahrain, Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates have car­ried out air strikes against IS in Syria but the three Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil mem­bers are also in­volved in an air and ground cam­paign in Ye­men in sup­port of ex­iled Pres­i­dent Abedrabbo Man­sour Hadi. “There is a mix of GCC that is par­tic­i­pat­ing in Ye­men as well as in the op­er­a­tions in Iraq and Syria,” said US Air Forces Cen­tral Com­mand chief Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Charles Q Brown. “Less so since March be­cause they’ve been oc­cu­pied with the Ye­men op­er­a­tion,” he told re­porters at the Dubai Air­show. Wash­ing­ton has been lead­ing mainly West­ern al­lies in car­ry­ing out air strikes against IS in Iraq since Au­gust last year.

US man sen­tenced for anti-gay slurs

SEAT­TLE: A Wash­ing­ton state man who yelled anti-gay slurs and threat­ened to stab three men in a Seat­tle neigh­bor­hood with a siz­able gay com­mu­nity has been sen­tenced to 30 months in prison, the Jus­tice Depart­ment said on Mon­day. Troy Dea­con Burns, a 38-year-old from Bre­mer­ton, Wash­ing­ton, pleaded guilty on Aug 5, ad­mit­ting in a plea deal that he at­tacked three gay men who were walk­ing in the Capi­tol Hill neigh­bor­hood, the depart­ment said. Dur­ing the plea hear­ing, Burns said he was un­der the in­flu­ence of drugs and al­co­hol at the time of the as­sault and claimed that he did not re­mem­ber his ac­tions, the depart­ment said. An at­tor­ney for Burns could not im­me­di­ately be reached for com­ment. He was charged in Au­gust un­der the Matthew Shep­ard and James Byrd, Jr, Hate Crimes Pre­ven­tion Act, the Jus­tice Depart­ment said. Burns, hold­ing a knife raised over his head in a stab­bing po­si­tion, ap­proached the men just af­ter mid­night and yelled ho­mo­pho­bic slurs. The men ran, but Burns caught up to one and again used a gay slur and threat­ened to stab him. As the sec­ond man helped the first away, their friend found Seat­tle po­lice of­fi­cers, who ar­rested Burns, the depart­ment said.

Knife at­tacks, un­rest re­turns to Jerusalem

JERUSALEM: Al­leged Pales­tinian as­sailants car­ried out two knife at­tacks in Jerusalem yes­ter­day, po­lice said, as a wave of un­rest in Is­rael and the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries re­turned to the city af­ter a lull. In one in­ci­dent, a Pales­tinian car­ried out a knife at­tack at the Damascus Gate, the main en­trance to Jerusalem’s Old City, and was “neu­tral­ized”, po­lice said. In the other, two knife-wield­ing Pales­tinian boys aged 12 to 13 at­tacked a se­cu­rity guard in a set­tler neigh­bor­hood of an­nexed east Jerusalem, with one shot and wounded and the other ar­rested, po­lice said. The se­cu­rity guard was wounded and treated at the scene, po­lice spokes­woman Luba Samri said. The at­tack took place as the guard was on duty on a tram line. Af­ter the first sus­pect was shot, “pas­sen­gers on the tram rushed to the sec­ond ter­ror­ist and over­came him,” Samri said. While other knife and car-ram­ming as­saults have con­tin­ued in the oc­cu­pied West Bank amid a weeks-long surge of vi­o­lence, Tues­day’s at­tacks were the first in Jerusalem in more than a week.

2 In­di­ans wounded in Saudi re­gion shoot­ing

RIYADH: Two In­di­ans and a Saudi po­lice­man were wounded by gun­fire in the east of the king­dom as au­thor­i­ties hunted sus­pects linked to un­rest by mi­nor­ity Shi­ites, the in­te­rior min­istry said yes­ter­day. A po­lice traf­fic pa­trol “came un­der heavy fire from a farm­ing area” in the Shi­ite-pop­u­lated Qatif dis­trict on Mon­day evening, the min­istry’s spokesman said. The In­di­ans were passers-by, he said. An In­dian em­bassy of­fi­cial con­firmed that two na­tion­als were wounded and are in sta­ble con­di­tion. “We are fol­low­ing it up,” he said. The min­istry spokesman did not iden­tify the per­pe­tra­tors but warned the pub­lic not to pro­vide as­sis­tance to peo­ple on a list of 23 wanted sus­pects is­sued in 2011 af­ter Shi­ite un­rest. Saudi Ara­bia’s Shi­ite mi­nor­ity, who com­plain of marginal­iza­tion in the Sunni-dom­i­nated king­dom, be­gan protests that year in East­ern Prov­ince, where most of them live. Many sus­pects on the wanted list have al­ready been de­tained or killed in shootouts.

GAZA: School chil­dren cross a street in the town of Khan Yu­nis in the Gaza strip, flooded by heavy rain. — AFP

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