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Has the Iraqi prime minister's luck finally run out? Open in fullscreen

Mohammad Ali Musawi

Has the Iraqi prime minister's luck finally run out?

Some Iraqis accuse Abadi of turning his back on reforms [AFP]

Date of publication: 13 April, 2016

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Once hailed for promising ground-breaking reforms to government, Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has lost the support of the streets. Can he survive on foreign backing alone?

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is probably one the luckiest political leaders the turbulent country has ever seen. Yet, he is also one of the unluckiest.

Abadi's luck started with his nomination to the premiership in August 2014 following the disastrous second term of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

His nomination enjoyed the backing of most of the country's political parties in addition to the support of the influential Shia religious leadership in Najaf. Both groups had grown tired of Maliki's divisive politics and broken promises.

However, the new prime minister took control of a country that had just lost large swathes of territory to the Islamic State group, with a political system in crisis and army in retreat.

That was in addition to Iraq's other problems that had compounded since the 2003 US-led invasion of the country.

Yet, Abadi survived by delicately managing the many crises affecting the country. He was buoyed by the grace of assuming power after the unpopular Maliki, who many in Iraq and farther afield hold responsible for much of the country's chaos.

With a promise to liberate IS-held territories and to right previous wrongs, Abadi sustained the support he enjoyed at his nomination to a large extent.

Once against Abadi's luck made an appearance when he was given a mandate by protesters and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to carry out sweeping reforms and root out political corruption.

In the summer of 2015, massive popular protests erupted against government corruption and a lack of services, spurred in part by a punishing heat wave.

Iraqis in numerous cities took to the streets demanding the return of basic services such as electricity and running water. They identified endemic corruption in the political class as culprit and consecutive governments as the main reason they lacked these basic amenities.

They called for real change - and fast - and Abadi emerged as the leader who could usher in the reforms that the Iraqi political system so urgently needed.

Once against Abadi's luck made an appearance when he was given a mandate by protesters and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani - Iraq's highest Shia religious authority - to carry out sweeping reforms and root out political corruption.

However, despite his proposals and promises, no major changes materialised. This was in part due to opposition from the prime minister's Dawah Party and other political blocs.

It soon became obvious that Abadi was either unable to deliver on his reform promises or was unwilling to pull the rug from underneath the political system that he benefitted from.

Street protests slowly faded away, with the exception of a small number of die-hard protesters who continued to show up at Baghdad's Tahrir Square every Friday.

However, the calls for reform recently took on a new urgency when influential Shia political leader Muqtada al-Sadr took up the cause and mobilised thousands of his supporters onto the streets and at the gates of the Green Zone.

The Sadrist sit-in was only called off after the prime minister announced a proposed cabinet of independents, which was subsequently rejected by political blocs, thus Abadi once against appeared like an embattled reformer.

Abadi's U-turn on the demands for a technocratic government were made clear by his latest cabinet lineup that he presented to parliament on Tuesday, and which was dominated by political nominees.

This image was shattered on Monday when the prime minister held a meeting with the leaders of the main political blocs and signed an agreement pledging to consult them in the formation of the new government.

Many Iraqis viewed the move as a stab in the back of the protest movement and a recommitment to the sectarian quota system that has kept the country's political parties in power.

Abadi's U-turn on the demands for a technocratic government were made clear by his latest cabinet line-up that he presented to parliament on Tuesday, and which was dominated by political nominees.

Analysts believe that Abadi was only able to carry out such a move due to the rare backing he currently enjoys from both the United States and Iran, the dominant forces in Iraqi politics.

US Secretary of State John Kerry's surprise visit to Baghdad last week is viewed by observers as a clear sign of support for the prime minister who has begun to lose the streets.

It also demonstrates that Washington wants business as usual in Iraq - at least at present - when the calls for reform are being led by Sadr, a figure hostile to the United States.

However, will Abadi be able to survive on foreign support alone, or will his luck finally run out?

Follow Mohammad Ali Musawi on Twitter @malimusawi 

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