Haider Al Abadi has not started well in his tenure as the new Prime Minister of Iraq. It has been just over six weeks since he was appointed and his cabinet is an unfortunate gathering of the same old faces. There is no sense of any new inclusive spirit, which was hoped would replace Nouri Al Malilki’s legacy of a country torn apart by sectarian violence with Sunnis facing discrimination, arbitrary arrests and violent crackdowns by government forces supported by Shiite militias.
US President Barack Obama was grasping at straws when he gave Iraq’s new leader a ringing endorsement after they first met in September and he described Al Abadi as “the right person” to lead Iraq as it was under attack by the militants of Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). Obama was speaking of his hopes and not the reality when he went so far as to say that Al Abadi had “reached out systematically to all the people of Iraq”.
One example of the sectarian nature of the Al Abadi cabinet is the new Interior Minister Mohammed Gabban, who is a little-known politician from the Badr Organisation, a powerful militia, which, under Al Maliki, was largely merged into the Iraqi Army and gave one section of Iraqis untrammelled authority in the armed forces and security services. Gabban is certain to be guided by Hadi Al Amiri, head of the Badr Organisation and its military wing, the Badr Brigade, which is thoroughly disturbing since Al Amiri has been a close ally of Iran and even ran death squads in 2005 and 2006.
Such a sectarian appointment is a serious blow to any efforts to unite communities to work together to build a new, inclusive Iraq. With such an obvious sectarian bias it will be very hard to persuade those Sunnis currently fighting with Daesh to bring their loyalty back to the nation of Iraq.
Finally, no-one knows what Al Abadi discussed on his visit to Iran this week. If he was making a cordial visit between neighbours it makes sense, but if he was an Iranian stooge getting his new orders, that will be a major problem for the survival of Iraq as a nation state.