Monday, September 8, 2014

Iraq Forms a Government without Defense or Interior

By Ahmed Ali

The Iraqi Council of Representatives (CoR) has voted to install a new cabinet to form the government of new Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi. The new cabinet will face the challenges of altering a deteriorating security situation and overcoming the mistrust created by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's years in office. Crucially, the government will also have to reverse the gains made by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). However, the vote for the new cabinet did not include the important positions of minister of defense or minister of interior. These positions will for now rest with PM Abadi, as former Prime Minister Maliki had occupied the positions previously. Hadi al-Ameri, of the Iranian-backed Badr Organization, has been floated as a candidate for both positions, and it is likely that political wrangling over these positions has delayed their appointment. Such an appointment would be alarming to the United States and other Iraqi allies. Iraqi Sunnis are likely to receive the Ministry of Defense, which may help instill confidence in renewed military efforts against ISIS. Much rests on the timely filling of these positions, which PM Abadi has promised this week. 

Important Cabinet Positions

Iraq's government will be led by newly elected Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, a member of the Iraqi Shi’a Dawa Party. He came to office after former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stepped down from running for a third term in the office. Today’s voting included twenty-four ministries, excluding the important security portfolio ministries of Defense and Interior. In addition to the cabinet positions, the CoR voted on three vice presidents. All three are leaders of political groups that competed in the 2014 elections: former Prime Ministers Ayad Allawi and Nouri al-Maliki and former Speaker of the CoR Osama al-Nujaifi. The Vice Presidency is more of a ceremonial position and does not have specific political powers. With former Prime Minister Maliki remaining in a political role, it remains to be seen how other political players will react.

The cabinet also maintained other well-known politicians in other positions, including the ministries known as the “sovereignty ministries:” Defense, Interior, Finance, Foreign Affairs, and Oil. Adel Abdul Mahdi from the Iraqi Shi’a Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) will be the Oil Minister, former prime minister and Iraqi Shi’a politician Ibrahim al-Jaafari will be Foreign Affairs Minister, and former deputy prime minister from the Kurdistani Alliance Rozh Nouri Shawes will be the Finance Minister. The Defense and Interior ministries remain pending.

Immediate Challenges Ahead

The cabinet and Prime Minister Abadi will face immediate challenges including:

Filling the positions of Defense and Interior Ministries. According to Abadi, he will seek to fill these positions by next week. Previous minister of transportation and leader of the Iranian-backed Badr Organization, Hadi al-Ameri, has controversially been reported as a candidate for the Defense Minister position but later leaks and unofficial cabinet lists showed him to be the candidate for the Interior Ministry. It is likely that the delay in filling both positions is the result of al-Ameri’s history as an ally of the Iranian government. 

Iraqi Sunnis and Security Positions. During the formation of the government in 2010, the Iraqi Sunnis were supposed to receive positions within the Defense Ministry. Former Prime Minister Maliki, however, withheld these positions and occupied them himself. Leaks from the government formation process again indicate that Iraqi Sunni political groups be granted positions in the Ministry of Defense. 

The Iraqi Kurdish Position. The Iraqi Kurds conditioned their participation in the government on six conditions that have to be fulfilled within three months. The conditions include addressing outstanding oil and gas issues, Iraqi Kurdistan’s share of the federal government budget, Article 140 (pertaining to disputed internal boundaries), further discussion of the government program put forward by Prime Minister Abadi, and issues related to governance in Iraq. Some of these issues will be difficult to address in three months and indeed have been outstanding for years. But releasing salaries for KRG employees can happen quickly as a confidence-building measure.

It is an important political development that Iraq’s cabinet was formed before the September 11, 2014 deadline passed. This will allow for an opportunity to re-inject legitimacy into the political process. It is further important that this government was formed while ISIS still controls significant urban areas in Iraq such as Mosul, Tikrit, and Fallujah. Nevertheless, the formation of the government also poses difficult challenges, particularly given Ameri’s candidacy for either the defense or interior ministry. Ameri’s assumption of either position will provide the Iranian government with greater access into Iraq’s formal security structures. 

Moving ahead, it will be vital for Iraqi Sunnis in ISIS-held areas to perceive the government as representative. This dynamic, coupled with a revamped military and security strategy, can provide an opportunity to weaken ISIS. It is still early to see how this new government will be received, and ISW will continue to up-to-date analysis of the challenges facing Iraq’s new government.

Ahmed Ali is a senior Iraq Research Analyst and the Iraq Team Lead.