New Iraq PM Haydar al-Abbadi kept his promise to present ministerial candidates for portfolios not included in the recent vote on his new cabinet, but the Iraqi parliament proved uncooperative. As a result, only one minister, for water management, was approved in today’s session. Crucially, all key security ministries remain vacant.
The most contentious nominations related to the defence and interior ministries. With respect to defence, the name of Jabir al-Jabiri, an Anbar politician with considerable popular backing and past ties to the former finance minister, Rafe al-Isawi, has recurred for some time as the nominee of the Sunni coalition in parliament. Conversely, it was something of a surprise that Riyad Ghrayb, a Shiite chameleon who has gone from a past with ISCI to the State of Law bloc and the faction of Hussein al-Shahristani, was put forward in the last minute. Before that, it had largely been thought that Badr would present a candidate, even after their original nominee, Hadi al-Ameri, was found by most other parties to be too unpalatable in such a sensitive position. As late as yesterday, a modification of the Badr proposal was presented in the shape of “independents” that might be acceptable to Badr, such as Ahmad Chalabi and Qasim Dawud. Today, the Shiite alliance held a last-minute meeting before the parliament session without being able to agree internally on a candidate.
There are regional and international dimensions involved, too. It has been suggested that the Iraq interior ministry struggle is a reflection of the contradictive relationship between the United States and Iran in the region as a whole, with Iran backing Badr candidates in Iraq and the United States – finally in possession of some real leverage because of the ISIS threat and Iraqi requests for American military assistance, and tacitly in alliance with Iran against ISIS – strongly objecting to this.
It is noteworthy that during the parliament session today, Abbadi implored the chamber to approve the nominees whereas parliamentarians of the Shiite alliance (whom Abbadi himself represents) voiced opposition to a vote, saying the interior minister at least should be internally approved in the Shiite alliance first. Deputy speaker Humam al-Hammudi of ISCI at one point tried to stop the vote according to the official parliamentary record.
Whereas the voting record hasn’t been tied down to individual MPs or even parties, the patterns suggest that parts of the Shiite alliance may have voted No and possibly that there was a revenge No in the vote on the State of Law nominee for tourism (Ali al-Adib). Interior minister Riyad Ghrayb got 117 out of 245 votes, Jabir al-Jabiri 108 out of 251, and Ali al-Adib got only 78 out of 250 votes. By way of contrast, a Sadrist nominee for the water ministry was approved with a more resounding 162 out of 250 votes. Altogether 285 MPs were in attendance, probably a reflection of the realization that a simple majority could have settled the matter of the security ministers and have them approved if those who were against Jabiri and Ghrayb had simply absented themselves.
Parliament adjourned until Thursday 18 September but it is unclear whether Abbadi will come up with new nominees by then. It cannot be stressed enough that these final components of the Abbadi cabinet are among the most important decisions relating to the new Iraqi government as a whole – and as such far more significant than the plethora of international gatherings that are currently going on in the name of defeating ISIS in Iraq. Experiences from Yemen suggest that airstrikes will eventually hit someone that shouldn’t have been hit. In that kind of context, only a durable political coalition in Baghdad can prevent the situation from fragmenting completely. The absence of agreement on security ministers was a key reason the second Maliki government remained so shaky throughout its term, and it is likely this issue, more than anything else, that will seal the fate of the new, so far partial, government put in place by Haydar al-Abbadi.