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Opinion: Is Abadi Staging a Coup in Iraq? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In this July 15, 2014 file photo, Haider Al-Abadi speaks to the media after an Iraqi parliament session in Baghdad. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

After weeks of protests in Iraq calling for an end to corruption, better government services, and wide-ranging reforms, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has proposed canceling the country’s multiple vice president and deputy prime minister posts, as part of a series of measures to quell the unrest, fix Iraq’s rampant cronyism, and shore up state funds. But is this latest move a reformist one, or is it simply part of a coup the Iraqi premier is now staging?

There is widespread agreement both inside and outside Iraq—especially among those of a rational disposition—that sectarian quotas for government posts, as well as politicians having loyalties to external parties like Iran, are a bad thing for the country. The issue with Mr. Abadi’s decision to cancel the three vice president posts (two Shi’ites, one Sunni) and the three deputy prime minister posts (one Shi’ite, one Sunni, one Kurd) is more to do with its timing, its implementation, and its unclear goals and motives. These points are hard to ignore, and it seems Abadi is attempting to ride the wave of popular anger by using the protests in his favor. He seems to have also sought religious backing for the decision—via the highest Shi’ite religious authority in the land, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, who told Abadi to “strike with an iron fist” against cronyism and corruption in the country and ensure posts are handed out on the basis of merit and ability and not affiliation to a particular political party, ethnicity, or religious sect.

The concerns regarding Abadi’s decision are obvious. Iraq is drowning day-by-day in sectarian strife and tension, especially in light of the increasing marginalization of Sunnis in the country. This may lead Iraq down a path where the existing problem of Sunni and Shi’ite extremist groups becomes an even more disastrous problem. Certainly, few will mourn Nuri Al-Maliki’s departure from his position one of the country’s three vice presidents, but that does not mean that this latest move by Abadi comes armed with any specific mechanisms for its implementations or even guarantees that it will hold water. It is, then, hard to see how these measures will help abolish sectarian quotas for posts and safeguard the rights of all Iraq’s different religious and ethnic groups. This last point is especially salient since it was Abadi’s government that refused to arm Sunni tribal groups in the country fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), not to mention the uncertainty still surrounding proposed plans to reinstate Iraq’s Republican Guard and the lack of trust between Abadi’s Baghdad government and the Kurds.

The truth is that everything that has happened in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein points to a complete lack of trust between all of the country’s different religious and ethnic groups. Successive post-Saddam governments have all failed to properly solve the issue of sectarian quotas and cronyism, so why should Iraqis believe this latest move by Abadi will adequately address the problem? Why shouldn’t Iraqis believe that by canceling the posts Abadi is effectively turning into a new Maliki? Would Abadi ever allow a Sunni or Kurdish prime minister to form their own government in future, without him seeking to block those efforts for sectarian reasons or through an Iranian veto—as happened when the Shi’ite Nuri Al-Maliki regained his position as prime minister in 2010 despite losing the elections to Sunni candidate Iyad Allawi? In the absence of genuine political discourse and a national reconciliation process there are in truth no guarantees that Abadi is being sincere with this latest move. And, given everything that has happened recently in Iraq, it is extremely difficult to rely solely on (what may seem to be) good intentions. After all, the road to hell is paved with them, as the saying goes.