Amman, Asharq Al-Awsat—“Serious steps” are being taken to clear an exiled Iraqi politician of terror charges as a prelude to his nomination as minister of defense, sources close to Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi informed Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday.
“Iraq’s judiciary and federal court have taken serious steps to secure the return of the leading Sunni figure and former minister of finance Rafie Al-Issawi to Iraq and to bring him to trial on the backdrop of terror charges levelled against him by former prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki as a prelude to acquitting and nominating him for the post of the minister of defense,” a source who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Asharq Al-Awsat.
According to the source, the step was supposed to take place last week, but Abadi preferred to delay it “for fear of the the Iraqi street opposing such a step, which may reduce his popularity within Shi’ite circles.”
Issawi, who served as minister of finance under Maliki between 2010 and 2013, was charged with corruption in April 2013 after resigning from the government the month before as protests among Iraq’s Sunni’s began to grow. He has criticized the charges as politically motivated.
While popular anger among Iraqi Sunnis had been increasing for some time, the arrest of one of Issawi’s bodyguards in December 2012 sparked the beginning of the major protests that took place in Sunni areas of Iraq throughout the following year.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, independent MP Izzat Shahbandar said Issawi’s nomination for the post was “highly unlikely,” making clear that several Shi’ite and Sunni parties opposed such a step.
“Signs indicate that the defense portfolio will be resolved on behalf of Dr. Jaber Al-Jabri,” the lawmaker said, describing him as a “frontrunner” for the position.
Shahbandar, widely seen as a confidante of Maliki, said he expected the issue over the minister of defense to be resolved immediately after Eid Al-Adha, which is due to take place on October 3.
Earlier this month the Iraqi parliament rejected Abadi’s candidates for the interior and defense ministers.
Abadi proposed Jabri, a Sunni tribal figure from Anbar, and Riyadh Garib, a former member of the Shi’ite Badr Organization, to head the defense and interior ministries respectively.
But “due to the lack of consensus and use of electronic voting, the two names were not passed by parliament,” Shahbandar added.
However, the independent lawmaker claimed that “Sunni blocs, excluding Osama Al-Nujaifi’s, are strongly pushing towards the re-nominating Jabri for the defense portfolio.”
Abadi has clearly backed the nomination of Jabri, given they both served on the Defense and Security Committee in the previous Iraqi parliament, he added.
Shahbandar accused Iran of “trying to put spokes in the wheels of Abadi’s government, because it is not pleased with a prime minister that is accepted and blessed by Washington at a time it is going through a crisis with the US.”
Meanwhile, Abadi has pledged to finalize the government line-up before Eid Al-Adha.
Following a Sunday meeting with Ammar Al-Hakim of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Abadi said he will discuss with parliament speaker Salim Al-Jabouri the possibility of convening the parliament before Eid Al-Adha to name the interior and defense ministers.