Iraqi gov­ern­ment stalls over Shia power strug­gle

Six months af­ter elec­tions, there is dis­agree­ment over the in­te­rior min­istry

The Irish Times - - World News - Michael Jansen

A power strug­gle be­tween two ri­val Shia po­lit­i­cal par­ties has stymied ef­forts to form an Iraqi gov­ern­ment six months af­ter par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. The party with most seats, led by pop­ulist cleric Muq­tada al-Sadr, has bro­ken with its erst­while ally, the party in sec­ond place headed by mili­tia leader Hadi al-Amiri.

The is­sue in dis­pute, the ap­point­ment of an in­te­rior minister, has stalled the par­lia­men­tary vote to ap­prove 14 of 22 min­is­ters.

Sadr seeks to block Amiri’s can­di­date, ar­gu­ing that no one with a po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion should be in the post, which is in charge of in­ter­nal se­cu­rity. Both Amiri and his nom­i­nee are backed by Tehran, while Sadr is a na­tion­al­ist who op­poses for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in Iraq.

Amiri’s can­di­date is Falih al-Fayyadh, for­mer chief of the na­tional se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus and head of the Pop­u­lar Mo­bil­i­sa­tion Forces, the mainly Shia coali­tion of mili­tias that drove Is­lamic State (also known as Isis) from Mo­sul and other Sunni cities. Al­though pro-Ira­nian para­mil­i­tary fac­tions had favoured Fayyadh for the premier­ship, Sadr and Amiri agreed in Oc­to­ber on Adel Ab­dul Mahdi as a com­pro­mise premier to head a tech­no­crat cab­i­net.

Sadr broke with Amiri when he in­sisted on Fayyadh with the aim of main­tain­ing para­mil­i­tary grip on the in­te­rior port­fo­lio. Sadr has urged Ab­dul Mahdi to present undis­puted nom­i­nees to the assem­bly as soon as pos­si­ble and threat­ened to or­der mass protests if there is fur­ther de­lay.

Re­build­ing de­layed

The fail­ure to form a gov­ern­ment has de­layed re­con­struc­tion of the towns and cities lib­er­ated from Isis, the adop­tion of the 2019 bud­get and tack­ling un­em­ploy­ment griev­ances of Shias in the south.

Greta Ber­lin, a US cit­i­zen who spent five weeks in the south, told The Ir­ish Times the sit­u­a­tion was dire. Noth­ing grows due to pol­lu­tion by heavy met­als and pes­ti­cides, she said, the air is yel­low and filled with greasy grit, wa­ter flows black from the taps and elec­tric­ity is in­ter­mit­tent.

Last sum­mer thou­sands in Basra demon­strated over the lack of elec­tric­ity and potable wa­ter af­ter hun­dreds were hos­pi­talised with ill­ness. As protests spread to the rest of the south, Basra res­i­dents at­tacked the Ira­nian con­sulate shout­ing, “Iran out!”

The split be­tween Sadr (44) and Amiri (64) is not re­cent and is de­fined by loy­al­ties. The son and grand­son of revered Iraqi Shia cler­ics, Sadr – who grew up in Iraq un­der Sad­dam Hus­sein’s regime – op­posed the 2003 US in­va­sion of Iraq and raised a mili­tia, the Mahdi army, to fight the oc­cu­pa­tion. Al­though he is loyal to Iraq and seeks its in­de­pen­dence, many Iraqis are wary of Sadr, who lives in a heav­ily guarded com­pound in the Shia holy city of Na­jaf.

Bat­tle against Isis

Dur­ing ex­ile in Tehran, Amiri joined the Supreme Iraqi Is­lamic Coun­cil and its mil­i­tary wing, the Badr corps, which was trained by the Ira­nian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guards and fought on Iran’s side in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Along with other Shia op­po­nents of Sad­dam Hus­sein, Amiri re­turned to Iraq af­ter the US oc­cu­pa­tion. He took part in the bat­tle against Isis as a com­man­der of the Mo­bil­i­sa­tion Forces. Amiri is loyal to Iran.

Last De­cem­ber for­mer premier Haidar al-Abadi de­clared vic­tory over Isis, but it still op­er­ates freely in the north. This week, Isis fighters kid­napped and killed Sheikh Raghib Abid al-Hadi al-Bad­rani, the mayor of al-Amirini vil­lage, 20km south of Mo­sul.

His tribe fought along­side the Iraqi army against Isis dur­ing the Mo­sul cam­paign. Vil­lages are vul­ner­a­ble be­cause se­cu­rity forces are spread thin in the coun­try­side. Isis car­ries out an av­er­age of 78 at­tacks a month.

Shia-Shia dis­con­tents in the south are matched by Sunni dis­af­fec­tion in the west and north due to ne­glect by the Shia-fun­da­men­tal­ist-dom­i­nated gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad.

Both Hadi al-Amiri (left) and his nom­i­nee, Falih al-Fayyadh, are backed by Tehran, while Muq­tada al-Sadr is a na­tion­al­ist who op­poses for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in Iraq

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