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Iraq: Abadi faces tough choices in filling key jobs - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Iraq's new Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi (R) and Ammar Al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), meet during the session to approve the new government in Baghdad, Iraq, on September 8, 2014. (Reuters/Hadi Mizban/Pool)

Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi (R) and Ammar Al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), meet during the session to approve the new government in Baghdad, Iraq, on September 8, 2014. (Reuters/Hadi Mizban/Pool)

Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—After successfully managing to form a government on Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi faces a difficult week of talks with the Shi’ite National Alliance and Sunni Iraqi Forces Alliance to agree on names for the interior and defense minister positions.

Abadi declared in his first speech in parliament as premier that if an agreement was not reached, he would select two independent figures for the two posts and present them to parliament for a vote of confidence.

Observers say Abadi is reluctant to take the interior and defense portfolios for himself as his predecessor Nuri Al-Maliki did, because of what is widely seen as the latter’s mismanagement of those jobs, and to avoid raising fears he intends to monopolize power in his own hands.

In finding a solution, Abadi must navigate obstacles on two levels. Within Iraq, both Sunnis and Shi’ites are likely to insist on taking the Defense Ministry, while Washington and Tehran are also likely to lobby him with regards to the two cabinet jobs.

The Sunnis’ stance has spurred the Shi’ites to not only demand the post, but also to nominate Badr Organization leader Hadi Al-Ameri, who was rejected by both the Sunnis and the Americans.

The Badr Organization has close links to Tehran, and is viewed with suspicion among Sunnis and in Washington.

Fa’iq Sheikh Ali, an MP in the Democratic Civil Alliance, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The American role is stronger than the Iranian role this time, although that does not weaken the Iranians . . . When the Kurds and the Badr Organization left the hall during the confidence vote on Sunday, it was the Americans who brought them back in.”

“America and Iran are not on opposite sides regarding the Iraqi issue; but while there are no contradictions between them, there is also no coordination. What happens is that sometimes Iran’s influence becomes stronger or weaker, and the same applies to the Americans,” he added.

Ali said Abadi’s calls for the integration of Shi’ite militias into the armed forces was also likely to make waves.

“There is a clear contradiction in the government program when, while it stipulates that [possession of] arms must be limited to the state according to the constitution, it announces the formation of a National Guard militia of volunteers, which is a clear contradiction and a sign of the return of militias in a different way,” he said.

Abadi has promised to name his defense and interior ministers within a week. According to political observers in Baghdad, he will continue to negotiate with Shi’ite and Sunni blocs, but will also be unable to ignore American and Iranian pressure.

If reports that Washington vetoed Ameri becoming defense minister are accurate, Abadi must try to persuade one of the two sides of the disagreement, the Sunnis or the Shi’ites, to concede the defense post to the other.

Followers of Iraqi political affairs link the Shi’ite and Sunni insistence on the defense portfolio, rather than the interior ministry and its own paramilitary forces, to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) advances across Iraq, in addition to the alliance which the Americans are trying to form to fight the group, which gives a clear importance to the defense post in terms of the administration, arming, equipping and coordination of Iraq’s armed forces.