Monday, March 21, 2016

Iraq Situation Report: March 15 - 21, 2016

By Patrick Martin and ISW Iraq Team

Key Take-Away: Supporters of Sadrist Trend leader Muqtada al-Sadr began a large sit-in in front of the entrance to the Green Zone on March 18. The sit-in escalates pressure on Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to follow Sadr’s reform agenda. PM Abadi, along with Council of Representatives Speaker Salim al-Juburi and President Fuad Masoum, met with the leaders of major political blocs on March 20 to discuss the cabinet reshuffle, but the assembled leaders could not form an agreement on the final shape of the cabinet. PM Abadi blamed unspecified individuals for blocking the reshuffle process for fear of losing their positions and privileges, indicating that political blocs are unwilling to lose control over ministries and the patronage that follows. Further disagreement over the cabinet cannot continue for much longer without provoking a response from an increasingly bold Sadr. He ordered the sit-in to continue on March 18 in defiance of orders from the Council of Ministers and the Interior Ministry banning the sit-in, and repeated calls for a full overhaul of the government, while a senior member of the Sadrist Trend, Sabah al-Ta’i, warned that protesters could “storm the Green Zone” if a technocratic government was not in place by March 29. PM Abadi thus faces no good options for completing the cabinet reshuffle process. Political blocs could obstruct PM Abadi if he attempts to impose a technocratic government that deprives political blocs of their ministerial positions. However, Sadr could incite further demonstrations or even violence if PM Abadi decides to conduct a partial reform that preserves political blocs’ power within the cabinet. Sadr could attempt to force PM Abadi’s hand through some bold action by the March 29 deadline that threatens to destabilize the government and end PM Abadi’s tenure.