Monday, November 2, 2015

Iraq Situation Report: October 27 - November 2, 2015

By Patrick Martin and ISW Iraq Team

Key Take-Away: PM Haidar al-Abadi suffered a serious blow in his bid to reform and lead the government on November 2 when the Council of Representatives (CoR) unanimously ruled to withdraw his ability to launch reform packages unilaterally. CoR members voiced support for the reforms, but worded the motion as enforcing the separation of powers and keeping legislative powers within the CoR. PM Abadi’s loss is Maliki’s gain, as Maliki has capitalized on resistance to PM Abadi’s reforms by openly speaking out against them and using his allies within the SLA to spearhead criticism of PM Abadi’s governing style. PM Abadi has lost the confidence of the political blocs who supported his reform packages with his unilateral approach to introducing reforms, and the outcome of the vote was a response to his most recent and controversial reforms. These included changes to the salary scale and the appointment of a new Council of Ministers (CoM) secretary who holds U.S. citizenship. PM Abadi previously had numerous supporters for his reform agenda. However, in response to the salary scale changes, these supporters, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the political opponents of Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, including ISCI and the Sadrist Trend, have since diminished their support for him in light of the salary scale change. Sistani disagreed with PM Abadi over the final form for the salary scale reform, and thus voiced his disapproval. Maliki has likely used this opportunity to test the waters for an eventual no-confidence vote against PM Abadi. Sistani likely remains supportive of PM Abadi – Maliki’s allies likely took advantage of Sistani’s denouncement of the salary scale change to attack PM Abadi. In addition, former supporters of the reform program most likely used the CoR vote to both protect themselves from backlash by their constituencies over unpopular reform packages and to prevent PM Abadi from exercising any powers without their consultation. 

ISF and tribal fighters reportedly crossed the Albu Faraj Bridge into central Ramadi. Significant action has not been reported in central Ramadi, indicating that the incursion does not constitute a meaningful tactical gain. However, the crossing is the first advance by the ISF into central Ramadi from the north since the city fell to ISIS on May 18. The ISF are also approaching the Anbar Operations Command headquarters building, but have not managed to capture it or the nearby Warrar Dam. The ISF have failed to make progress towards the city from the east and remain bogged down in fighting in villages between Ramadi and Habaniya. ISIS also attacked Peshmerga positions in Sinjar and Rabia districts in northwestern Ninewa province and continued pressuring ISF and “Popular Mobilization” fighters west if Samarra and north of Baiji, indicating a continued capacity to launch attacks across a wide territory. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama promised to “intensify” support to the ISF and would authorize a headquarters for U.S. special operator task force (SOTF) in Arbil. This follows a report that a similar SOTF headquarters had already been operational in Arbil for some time. The U.S. is thus taking steps to intensify its support under current advise and assist powers for the Peshmerga and the ISF against ISIS.