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“Rebellious” Abadi decisions cause rift with Maliki: source - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi addresses members of the UN Security Council, Wednesday, September 24, 2014, at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi addresses members of the UN Security Council, Wednesday, September 24, 2014, at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Attempts by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to distance himself from the legacy of his predecessor Nuri Al-Maliki have created a rift between the two that is hindering attempts to appoint ministers to key posts, an informed source told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat the conflict between the two men “revolves around a number of important matters, the most important of which is Maliki’s insistence, along with that of his supporters within the State of Law coalition, on submitting Hadi Al-Ameri, the leader of the Badr Organization . . . as a candidate for minister of interior, something which Abadi rejects.”

Ameri, who heads the notorious Badr Organization, which fought alongside Iran during the Iran–Iraq War of the 1980s, is being touted for one of the remaining vacant posts in Abadi’s new cabinet, the other being the defense minister position.

The source said Abadi had taken a number of “rebellious” decisions recently, including scrapping the Office of Commander-in-Chief—which he former premier created and occupied himself—and retiring two army generals appointed by Maliki and blamed for some of the Iraqi army’s stunning losses to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in June.

Maliki, who was unable to secure a third term as prime minister in parliamentary elections at the end of April, became one of Iraq’s three vice-presidents after agreeing to step aside and allow Abadi the chance to form a government after a political crisis lasting three months, and which coincided with ISIS’s capture of the city of Mosul and its stunning advance across northern and western Iraq.

The source put down Abadi’s confidence in making such decisions to the “unprecedented support” he has received from the US administration since his appointment.

Another of Abadi’s “rebellious” decisions which provoked Maliki’s ire, the source said, was his ordering a halt in Iraqi airstrikes on areas held by ISIS earlier this month, after Sunni tribal leaders called for a moratorium on the strikes as a condition for supporting a broader military campaign against the extremist group.

“Maliki was strongly against Abadi’s decision to halt the strikes, and when the Saqlawiyah massacre occurred [when ISIS forces attacked an Iraqi army base on Friday, reportedly killing an estimated 300–500 soldiers], he [Maliki] blamed it on his successor, which caused a big argument between them before Abadi left for New York [to attend the UN General Assembly],” the source said.

“At the same time that Maliki told Abadi his decision to halt the strikes was the reason for what happened [the Saqlawiyah massacre], Abadi informed his predecessor it was his decisions throughout the whole of his time in office that had brought the country to the situation it is currently in.”

But not everyone is critical of Abadi’s recent decisions. Mohamed Taha, a spokesman for the Kurdistan Alliance—the main Kurdish bloc in the Iraqi parliament—told Asharq Al-Awsat the bloc felt “relieved” after Abadi’s introduced some of his policies, “especially the military decisions, such as scrapping the Office of Commander-in-Chief, retiring a number of army generals, and inviting a security officials to attend parliament sessions, something which never happened during the previous [Maliki] term.”

Mohamed Al-Khalidi, a leading figure in the Iraqi Forces Alliance—the main Sunni bloc in the Iraqi parliament—told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Abadi’s decisions up until now have been important, and show a genuine desire on his part for reform. We strongly support these policies, but we need more effective measures on the ground.”

In addition to personal friction between Abadi and Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister also faces opposition from within the ranks of the country’s Shi’ite political movements.

This includes the recent emergence of an “Electronic Army” of online activists loyal to Maliki—which has branded Abadi a “British lackey,” a reference to the fact he previously held British citizenship, and a “traitor to Shi’ites”—as well as planned anti-Abadi protests on September 30.

Khalidi said: “These are attempts to scare Abadi so he does not continue with promised reforms . . . agreed upon by everyone, including the major players in the National Alliance [the main Shi’ite bloc in the Iraqi parliament] such as the Sadrist Movement, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq . . . and even important members inside the State of Law coalition.”

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Forces Alliance announced on Saturday its official candidate for minister of defense, former finance minister Rafie Al-Issawi, who may prove a controversial figure due to his part in mass protests in Iraq’s restive, Sunni-dominated province of Anbar last year.

The protests are widely seen as the precursor to ISIS’s offensive, which has been welcomed by some Sunni Iraqis as a defender of their communities against the federal government in Baghdad, which they accused of corruption and sectarian bias during last year’s protests.

The alliance downplayed the concerns about Issawi. In a statement, the parliamentary bloc said all its members had been careful to choose a candidate “who is universally popular and possesses the necessary political experience to qualify him for this important and sensitive position.”

The defense and interior portfolios in the Iraqi cabinet have yet to be filled, and remain the topic of fierce wrangling within and between the country’s various political movements, with each trying to find candidates acceptable to both other parties and their own members.

The appointments will follow the main Sunni bloc, the Iraqi Forces Alliance, putting forward an official nomination for defense, and the main Shi’ite bloc, the National Alliance, putting forward its own candidate for interior, which it is yet to do.