Amatzia Baram, professor emeritus at the Department of Middle East History at Haifa University, briefed the Middle East Forum on a conference call May 16, 2016.
The bloodless storming of Baghdad's parliament by followers of the prominent Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr on April 30th challenged Prime Minister Haider Abadi's authority and exposed the fragility of his regime.
The prime minister's failure to uphold his election promise to curb rampant government corruption has cost him the support of Ayatollah Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, as well as the trust of the Iraqi public; and his position has been further weakened by the rapidly deteriorating economic situation, the infighting among Shiite political, religious and militia leaders, the looming Kurdish plebiscite about independence, and the inconclusive campaign against ISIS.
While there is no current replacement for Abadi, the most troubling aspect of the latest crisis is that it was solved by a resurgent Iran, which swiftly summoned Sadr to Tehran and ordered restraint, underscoring Washington's meager influence in Iraq; and although the military leadership remains loyal to Abadi, its absorption in the anti-ISIS fight prevents it from enforcing the prime minister's authority across the country, leaving most of Baghdad virtually under the control of Shiite militias.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi's authority remains greatly compromised.
Abadi's survival will ultimately depend on his ability to rein in corruption - a very tall order even when he had Sistani's support and a virtually impossible task as long as ISIS remains undefeated. This will, however, require offering the Sunnis a major boon in order to replicate the success of the 2006-07 Sunni Awakening, when U.S. General David Petraeus rallied tribes to oust al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and its allies. To achieve this Abadi will need to change de-Baathification laws, allow the Sunnis to establish a militia similar to the Kurdish peshmerga, and negotiate potential terms of autonomy, among other concessions.
Abadi's success to reinstate the former Mosul governor, General Najim Jabouri, to a command post against objections within the government has been an encouraging sign. A two-star general under Saddam Hussein, the veteran Sunni officer can regain the trust of the Mosul population by liberating them. Judging by the lackluster pace of the campaign and the limited effects of the U.S. military support, however, the achievement of this goal could well take a long time.
Summary account by Marilyn Stern, Middle East Forum Board of Governors