In February 2016 Iraq’s Prime Minister Haidar Abadi announced that he would replace his cabinet with one full of non-partisan technocrats. This caught the country’s political class by surprise as the premier had not consulted with any of them about his decision. By the end of March he presented his list of candidates, which then imploded with two of the nominees withdrawing their names, and all of the political parties with the exception of the Sadrists coming out against it. That forced Abadi to come up with another collection of individuals, but the chaos only increased with parliamentarians carrying out protests, fights, and even some calling for an entirely new government.
On March 31, PM Abadi presented his new cabinet, which he hoped would usher in a new period of reform in Iraq politics, but instead things imploded on him. First, his Oil Minister and Finance Ministers dropped out. Then all of the ruling parties except the Sadrists came out against the program. The Sadrists were the only one that supported Abadi’s call for a technocratic cabinet. The other lists wanted to maintain their right to select the ministers. Some went as far as to call for Abadi to resign to be replaced by a technocrat himself. The complaints and withdrawals led the prime minister to come up with a second list for the cabinet. That led to a sit-in demonstration by lawmakers in parliament on April 12. The next day things only escalated with more protests, the Sadrists walking out, arguments, calls for the speaker of parliament to be dismissed, a fist fight, water bottles thrown, and an alternative cabinet presented by the parties. The parliament is supposed to meet again on April 14 to decide on the cabinet, but the amount of chaos going on means there’s little chance for that to happen. As Sajad Jiyad from the Iraqi Institute for Economic reforms suggested on Twitter, the parliament could easily overcome these problems by picking ministers suggested by both Abadi and the parties, but that is too easy. Iraq’s political tradition in times like these is to create committee after committee and then have summit meetings of the top leaders that go on for weeks before any decisions are made. According to Al Mada the ruling parties are already on their way as there were eight committees formed to deal with this issue before the prime minister presented his first cabinet. More are to come.
The core issue involved in this growing controversy is Abadi’s attempt to take away the ministries from the lists. If he were able to pick his own ministers that would threaten one of the main ways parties run the government. It would also give Abadi wide ranging independence from the elite as the cabinet would be loyal to him. There is no way that the parties, outside of the Sadrists who are Abadi’s only supporters, will agree to this. The prime minister makes the situation worse by never telling anyone outside of his small core of advisers what his plans are, and doesn’t present an overview of them once they are made public either. All together that is a recipe for disaster as the last few meetings of parliament have shown. This entire drama will be playing out in the coming weeks highlighting all of the dysfunction in Iraqi politics before a compromise will eventually be worked out.
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