Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Iraqi Parliament Approves the Abbadi Cabinet

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 9 September 2014 1:40

The new Iraqi cabinet headed by Haydar al-Abbadi has been approved by the Iraqi parliament. Abbadi has 3 deputies and 23 ministers, with some portfolios still not named.

The programme of the new cabinet, approved by 177 votes, is very general. Still, it goes further than past governments in terms of underlining the need for decentralization as well as implementing reform in the Iraqi armed forces. All of this seems to represent recognition of past failures, which at least constitutes a good first step. It seems clear, though, that no major promises have been issued along the lines of the pompous Erbil agreement of 2010. In itself, perhaps not a bad thing. Also the timing of the whole process is admirable, for the first time entirely consistent with the Iraqi constitution.

In terms of ministries, Shiite Islamist parties have taken the lion’s share, including several particularly important portfolios. These include Ibrahim al-Jaafari as foreign minister and Adel Abd al-Mahdi of ISCI as oil minister. In addition to the premiership, the State of Law bloc of former PM Maliki also has the portfolios of health, education and work. Fadila continues to control the ministry of justice. Whereas ISCI was awarded additional ministries, Badr and the Sadrists seem to have only two each, though the Sadrists also control one of the three deputy premier positions. Badr was at one point on the verge of boycotting the entire session after they were denied the interior ministry portfolio. As in previous government formations, the PM kept these portfolios for himself, though promising to present candidates within a week.

Sunni and secular representation is largely by individuals affiliated with the broad coalition associated with current parliament speaker Salim al-Jibburi and previous speaker Usama al-Nujayfi. Together, they hold around 7 ministries, all of them service-oriented (plus Saleh al-Mutlak as deputy PM). The movement of previous Iraqiyya leader Ayyad Allawi, which has remained separate, does not seem to have more than one portfolio.

As in previous government deals, the Kurds have a relatively low number of portfolios, around 3, but these include the heavyweight ministry of finance. They also have one deputy PM as before.

A separate chapter relates to three vice presidents approved today as part of the package. The Iraqi presidency proper is a mostly symbolic position, whose main responsibilities largely end with the successful formation of a new government. The vice presidents have even less power, and it is an ironic sight to now have three major players in the previous term – Nuri al-Maliki, Ayad Allawi and Usama al-Nujayfi – in these sinecure-like positions.

On a legal and constitutional note, parliament speaker Jibburi made it clear during the vote that he intends to follow a supreme court ruling that says “absolute majority” in the Iraqi constitution means “absolute majority of those present” as long as “absolute majority of parliament membership” is not expressly mentioned. After the new deputy premier Saleh al-Mutlak got less than an absolute majority of the total members, Jibburi simply stopped specifying the exact number of votes received, only referring to the fulfilment of a majority of those present. Exactly like in the sessions to vote for parliament speaker and his deputies, though, the votes that were counted, including the approval of the government programme, were in the range of 140-180 Yes votes, out of altogether 289 MPs reportedly present. This seems to indicate that whereas all blocs may have supported their candidates and made a strategic decision to be inside the government, wholehearted enthusiasm is still not widespread.

The international community has largely welcomed the new government as somehow being more “inclusive” than past ones. This is largely inaccurate as far as ministerial appointments are concerned. The ethno-sectarian balance, which seems to be the prime interest to these commentators, remains largely the same as in the Maliki II government. Security portfolios remain unoccupied. Those who care about sectarian balances will also note that the Sunnis have lost the sole “sovereign” ministry they held (finance, now held by the Kurds). What has improved somewhat, though, is the size of the government (it has been reduced in size by at least 25% compared with past governments), as well as the political language emphasizing the need for reform.

To what extent Abbadi means business will be seen over the coming week, when candidates for the key positions of defence and interior ministers have been promised. Maliki in 2010 also issued such promises, only to keep the portfolios for himself or close friends acting as ministers without parliament approval for the duration of his term. That, in turn, formed the basis for many of the accusations of over-centralization and mismanagement of the Iraqi security forces that ultimately prevented him from a third term.

6 Responses to “The Iraqi Parliament Approves the Abbadi Cabinet”

  1. Arthur said

    Sounds better than expected and in particular avoids the dangers of a too inclusive “big tent”.

    As I suggested near end of previous thread:

    “… if in fact Maliki is still head of the largest bloc in the Iraqi parliament and has merely accepted a different representative of his own party as PM then the ostentatious display of contempt for the Iraqi constitution and election results does seem somewhat “theatrical”. You get sound and fury in favour of appeasement or “inclusion”, but a Daawa led government that knows it can only unite with Sunnis who accept democracy and has to crush those who don’t.”

    Meanwhile it looks like there has already been a dramatic shift in US public opinion, with 70% now supporting air strikes and nearly 40% supporting combat troops (despite President opposing the latter).

    If the US is serious about mobilizing Sunni support it should commit to destruction of Assad regime in Syria as well as ISIS and start bombing both.

    Iraqi government has failed to support Syrian revolution, both from understandable concerns about the spillover from Sunni based revolt against dictatorship in Syria to ISIS and Sunni based terrorism against democracy in Iraq, but also for Shia sectarian reasons.

    Going to war against both Assad and ISIS in Syria would cut through both Sunni and Shia/Alawi sectarianism in both Iraq and Syria and help get the focus back on the necessary “region change” from autocratic stagnation and strife to democratic progress and development.

    Syria would certainly require US combat troops, not just air power so I doubt that Obama is about to announce it. But its already obvious the US has to destroy ISIS and has to attack ISIS in Syria as well as Iraq in order to do so. The logic of that will end up with having to also fight the Assad regime, although Obama cannot just admit that he was simply wrong about everything.

  2. Arthur said

    I’m puzzled why a tweet from Reidar recommends Hannah Allan’s critique of Obama’s speech as “excellent”. Twitter is useless for political discussion so I’ll try responding in this thread although unfortunately Reidar is doing more on twitter than here.

    Obama’s speech is addressed to multiple audiences and could not possibly be an accurate account of current policy or its reasons. Pointing out obvious flaws contributes nothing to understanding what is going on.

    The central point is that Obama is committing the US to fighting in Syria as well as Iraq until ISIS is destroyed and is going to rely on the Syrian opposition, not Assad. The rest is fluff.

    The US cannot possibly mobilize Sunnis to break with ISIS while tacitly allied with Assad. Much of the old guard foreign policy establishment wants to “restore stability” maintaining the existing autocracies, especially the Egyptian military – see for example recent article by Dennis Ross. That line presenting Muslim Brtherhood and Iran as the main enemies and democracy as irrelevant/impossible is also being pushed by the Saudi and Israeli lobbies.

    It would have been catastrophic if Obama compounded his earlier stupdities by heading in that direction. Both France and Britain went out of their way to make it publicly clear that they would not go along with any alliance with Assad, so perhaps they had some reason for concern that the US advocates of that policy might succeed.

    It is obvious that this will require a long war, and cannot be won with just air power. It is equally obvious that Obama doesn’t like that idea and could not spell it out. The resulting inconsistencies do not detract from the fact that the orientation is now in the right direction rather than for continuing to just let things get worse.

  3. Terry said

    In the newly shrunken Cabinet, it appears the tourism portfolio got folded into another Ministry. Thus, with respect to a project like getting Erbil’s Citadel listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, which Ministry would take the lead? Minor point, but a curious one.

  4. To make that into a general point, it remains unclear which of the portfolios in the Maliki govt that have not reappointed will actually remain as ministries. Some are quite substantial ones, such as water for example. We’ll need to wait and see, although this time the focus is on the security ministries (in 2010-2011 there was another batch of appointments a couple of months after the first parliament vote).

  5. Salah said

    Do yo think there will be major changes in the Iraqi politics that will smooth and ease the differences and problems Malik created (Daawa party)?

  6. Hi Salah,
    I think Abbadi has made some good initial moves. ‘m writing up an article for another publication about this right now and will post it when it is ready. Bottom line though is that he’s got to go beyond smooth rhetoric to actual decisions that make a difference, and finding defence and interior ministers is by far the most important.

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