London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi is facing a “mutiny” from within Shi’ite circles in the country over his recent crackdown on government corruption, an informed source said on Saturday.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone, the source—a high-level Shi’ite politician who requested anonymity—said that “moves, though unofficial, are being made in secret” against Abadi in response to recent reforms he enacted in August.
“The struggle is within the Shi’ite camp, among its different political and religious lines, and is a struggle for influence, power, and money,” the source said.
Abadi, a moderate Shi’ite Islamist who has sought reconciliation between both Sunnis and Shi’ites, has struggled to build a broad political support-base for substantive reforms he has promised since becoming PM in September 2014.
In August he canceled a number of government posts including Iraq’s three vice president positions, in response to a groundswell of public protests across Iraq calling for better public services and government action to tackle Iraq’s endemic corruption problems.
The move has faced opposition from removed vice presidents Iyad Allawi, Osama Al-Nujaifi, and Nuri Al-Maliki, who is also Abadi’s predecessor as premier. All three have called the cancelation of the posts unconstitutional and earlier this month Allawi called for Iraqi MPs to remove Abadi from power.
The source told Asharq Al-Awsat some of those moving against Abadi were among his own ruling, Shi’ite-dominated Islamic Da’wa Party.
The “mutineers” include Shi’ite officials within two major camps: “those embroiled in corruption—whom Abadi has labeled ‘corrupt mafiosos’ and are largely made up of supporters of his predecessor Maliki.”
Some of them belonged to the Islamic Da’wa Party, of which Maliki is also a member, and have been opposed to Abadi since his appointment as PM, the source said.
The second camp comprises some of the leadership of Shi’ite militias currently operating in Iraq, many of whom have been involved in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group in the country. Such groups include the Popular Mobilization and other militias, some of whom have ties with Iran.
Among the most prominent of militia leaders who fear Abadi’s growing influence are Abu Mahdi Al-Mohandis, a senior commander of the Popular Mobilization; Hadi Al-Ameri, the leader of the Badr Organization—the armed wing of the Shi’ite Islamist party the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI)—and Qais Al-Khazali.
The latter is the founder of the Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq paramilitary group currently operating in both Iraq and Syria and which was notorious for conducting attacks that killed thousands of American soldiers following the US-led invasion of Iraq. The group is thought to be controlled by Iran and its Quds Force—an elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps involved in foreign missions in Syria and Iraq.
The source said: “These groups now have a real presence on the ground in Iraq, whether through receiving arms under the pretext of the fight against ISIS, or via Iran.”
“An even more dangerous development was the unearthing of several weapons in Baghdad’s Green Zone [the capital’s governmental center] which belonged to some of these groups. The investigation into this is still ongoing.”
Despite some opposition in various quarters, Abadi’s reforms have received support from Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, who possesses major clout in Shi’ite-majority Iraq.
Prior to the reforms in August, Sistani called on Abadi to “strike with an iron fist” against corruption and appoint officials on the basis of merit and not on party or sectarian affiliation.
Numerous posts in Iraq are divided up along sectarian and ethnic lines. The three vice presidents posts were shared between two Shi’ites and a Sunni, while the country’s three deputy prime minister posts are shared between a Shi’ite, a Sunni, and a Kurd. The three top political posts of president, prime minister, and speaker of parliament go to a Kurd, Shi’ite, and Sunni respectively.