What’s behind Iraqi PM Haidar al-Abadi’s cautious optimism?

It is indeed undeniable that the U.S.’s efforts in building an international coalition against ISIS have gained momentum

Raed Omari
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In general, there is a feeling of repose towards Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and his newly formed government which has recently taken the oath of office before the parliament.

Much of the positive reception to Abadi and the feeling of uneasiness toward the man and his government has to do with the new premier being a replacement of Nouri al-Maliki. The latter was such a nightmare for the Iraqi people.


Abadi’s assumption of office coinciding with the U.S.’ escalation against insurgents of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has also had a major contribution to the new premier’s reception. Abadi’s government is now needed. President Obama has made it clear that much cooperation and coordination is needed from the Iraqi government in the war against ISIS.


It is indeed undeniable that the U.S.' efforts in building an international coalition against ISIS have gained momentum with the formation of the Iraqi government. Iraq was the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s first destination of his recent Middle East tour for a meeting with Abadi over the formation of America-led, anti-ISIS alliance. French President Francois Hollande’s recent visit to Baghdad is also to be placed within this context.

It is indeed undeniable that the U.S.’s efforts in building an international coalition against ISIS have gained momentum with the formation of the Iraqi government

Raed Omari

Much of the world’s support to Abadi’s government now actually stems from the conviction that Maliki’s sectarian policies and unsuccessful administration of the state’s affairs are to blame significantly for ISIS’ expansion. In its war against ISIS, the United States requires a cohesive Iraqi government in Baghdad in full harmony with the Sunnis and Kurds in the north and west in addition of course to an organized Iraqi army obedient only to the central government.

To make a long story short, the urgency of ISIS' eradication is the direct reason behind the regional and international support to al-Abadi and his government. In other words, there is much need for Abadi now and this is the major reason behind hailing his government, at least on the international level.

‘Full satisfaction’ level

However, on the internal Iraqi level, Abadi’s government is still below the “full satisfaction” level and more in the “cautious optimism” level. Filling the vacant interior and defense ministerial seats may correct the still-unbalanced formula.

It is “optimism” for Abadi, who deserves to be given a chance yet “cautious” with regard to the make-up of his Cabinet. In addition to Abadi himself being a Dawa party member, the foreign affairs portfolio was given to the Shiite-dominated party leader Ibrahim Jafaari, a former premier. One of the three ceremonial seats of vice president was given to Maliki, also a leader in the Dawa party. In doing so, Abadi acted as if his party won the majority of seats in parliament, thus eligible to give the majority or all of the executive portfolios to his party.

But this was not the case. Abadi was not nominated by a single party but by the National Alliance - the coalition of Shiite political parties.

In addition to being considerably “much” in terms of number in a country like Iraq with several sects, political powers and parliamentary coalitions, giving three government posts to one political party raises the question of “who is ruling who”? Was Abadi forced to include in his government two prominent Dawa party leaders?

Engulfing controversy

Plus, there is much controversy engulfing the appointment of outgoing premier Maliki even in a ceremonial post. Seemingly, there is still no realization of the fact that Maliki, the man and the premier, was the direct reason behind the Anbar uprising and the Arab Sunnis’ dissatisfaction with the Baghdad government.

It is also an indication that Maliki is still influential in Iraq with his appointment. But Maliki’s appointment might have different interpretations by the Arab Sunnis. They may see in Maliki’s reinstatement a move to avert him future legal proceedings that the Anbar uprising leaders have vowed to take against the former premier in charges related to war crimes and displacement of millions of Sunnis.

Additionally, in Abadi’s cabinet-choosing process, one can easily see much appeasement to certain political powers in addition to containment and even marginalization of others. Such an aspect can be seen in giving the three largely ceremonial posts of vice president to Maliki, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and former Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi. All in all, three vice presidents and three deputy prime ministers are just too many and will no doubt affect the swiftness of the Cabinet.

But are the Arab Sunnis happy with Abadi’s cabinet make-up, especially when much is required from the long marginalized sect in the fight against ISIS? In fact, more wise efforts were expected from Abadi to alleviate the Arab Sunnis’ feelings of marginalization but let’s wait and see and wish the new premier good luck.

Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via [email protected], or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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