Monday, April 11, 2016

Iraq Situation Report: April 5 - 11, 2016

By Patrick Martin and ISW Iraq Team

Key Take-Away: Political blocs continue to jockey for influence over the final composition of the Council of Ministers (CoM) amid increased threats to Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s position. Reuters reported on April 6 that U.S. and Iranian officials intervened to “stave off” an initiative by Vice President Nouri al-Maliki to oust PM Abadi, with the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – Quds Force, Qassim Suleimani, reportedly intervening in order to prevent any change in the Iraqi government. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Baghdad on April 8, reiterated that the U.S. administration had unequivocal support for PM Abadi. U.S., and notably Iranian, support for the notion of keeping PM Abadi in his position indicate that PM Abadi will likely remain Prime Minister, as political blocs will be hesitant to oppose U.S. and Iranian directives. However, it also looks increasingly likely that political blocs will determine the final composition of the cabinet and will not select technocrats for the ministerial positions or other senior government posts, as PM Abadi originally intended. The Council of Representatives (CoR) is slated to discuss the new cabinet on April 12, but the date could be further delayed or the session blocked by a lack of quorum if no agreement can be reached before the CoR session. It remains to be seen how the Kurdistan Alliance, the most vocal opponents of the cabinet reshuffle, and Muqtada al-Sadr, who has positioned himself as a leader of the reform process and the strongest supporter of the cabinet reshuffle, will react to the new cabinet changes. However, both have previously stated they will pursue a no-confidence vote or withdraw from government if their vision of the cabinet reshuffle are not met, courses of action that have the potential to seriously undermine the stability of the government. It thus looks increasingly likely that any substantial changes in government will be delayed, if they occur at all. Meanwhile, the U.S. is considering building additional firebases in northern Iraq to support operations to recapture Ninewa that have stalled due to stiff resistance from ISIS and manpower issues. The proposal would provide necessary assistance for the ground offensive while demonstrating U.S. support for the Iraqi Security Forces and the Iraqi government, though these additions may not be significant enough factors to make up for the limited number of ISF members currently engaged in operations.