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New Iraqi Govt Doomed To Spend All Year Fixing Problems Caused By Previous Regime

Mustafa Habib
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18.09.2014  |  Baghdad
The new Iraqi government ministers are sworn in. Pic: Getty
The new Iraqi government ministers are sworn in. Pic: Getty

During his last days in power, Iraq's former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made senior appointments in the government and military to try and shore up his power. Now new MPs want to reverse some of those decisions as well as share power more equally between the different branches of government and the participating political parties.

Many analysts are now saying that the new Iraqi government, headed by new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, is going to be a “crisis government” - that is, one which will have to spend all of its time trying to fix crises and problems created by the previous regime.

Recently there have been three major issues that the different political blocs in the Parliament have been working on.

Firstly, a new internal bylaw to regulate the work of the prime minister's department. This is something that Iraq's last Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, had refused to even discuss because, one imagines, such a bylaw would have reduced the many powers he tried to keep solely for his executive branch.

The second issue centres on a steering committee for all of the parties that identify as Shiite Muslim majority, which work in an alliance in Parliament. The committee would bring about more unified and quicker decision making among the alliance. In the past, al-Maliki had also refused to help form such a committee because once again, it would have taken away his power.

The third issue is possibly the most important and concerns a number of decisions made by al-Maliki shortly before he was ousted by al-Abadi. The new government wants to know what all of these were – some remain unclear – and they want them annulled or reversed.

This series of decisions includes al-Maliki making some important appointments, handing out sensitive positions to his closest allies and even relatives, as well as withdrawing money from the national coffers.

Early in September al-Maliki appointed one of his closest allies, Ali al-Allaq, to head Iraq's Central Bank. This came at the same time as the Central Bank's former head, Sinan al-Shabibi, was sentenced to seven years in jail on charges of corruption.

It is generally thought that because al-Shabibi, an economist, had resisted al-Maliki's attempts to interfere in Central Bank business and not allowed him to withdraw money from the bank's reserves, that al-Maliki cooked up the corruption charges in order to have him removed from the post.

There have already been calls to reverse the decisions made against al-Shabibi.

Other appointments made by al-Maliki include appointing his spokesperson, Ali al-Mousawi, as director general at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, making the head of his financial office, Dea'a al-Quraishi, the Deputy Minister of Planning and appointing an MP from his own party, Ali al-Shlah, as chairman of the board of trustees at the national broadcaster, the Iraqi Media Network, which also runs the Iraqiya TV channel.

Current MPs say that behind the scenes, al-Maliki also appointed dozens more of his closest allies and followers into senior jobs in sensitive positions. Other job holders were forced to retire, army officers loyal to al-Maliki were unjustifiably promoted and other army officers were paid above and beyond their salaries by his office.

“Parliament is going to discuss all of he decisions taken by the previous government,” Shiite Muslim MP Hassan al-Sari told NIQASH. “Especially as many of these decisions should not have been made without Parliament's approval in the first place.”

Iraq's Constitution actually says that appointments such as the head of the Central Bank need to be approved by Parliament, as do many senior military and security appointments – however al-Maliki basically ignored this.

There is also a larger issue here, especially when it comes to the country's security. It is generally thought that a lot of the army and police commanders respect al-Maliki. As yet they do not feel this way about the new Prime Minister, al-Abadi.

And al-Maliki has been quick to criticise al-Abadi's security related decisions. Al-Maliki visited his hometown in Karbala last week and made harsh comments about the shelling of heavily populated areas under the control of Sunni Muslim extremists – innocent civilians were being killed, he said. He was also critical of al-Abadi's stated aim of forming separate armed forces in different parts of Iraq.

Although it is hard to know what caused this – the Iraqi army's own inefficiency could be the cause – the army continued to shell populated areas for hours after al-Abadi commanded them to stop. Questions have been raised as to whether Iraqi army officers will abide by their new Commander-in-Chief's orders.

Correcting these “mistakes” made by al-Maliki will be a difficult task. In order to make it easier, current MPs from every part of the government want to draft legislation that defines how the executive branch and cabinet works.

“The new Prime Minister has vowed to draft bylaws for his department in order to end that department's monopoly on decision making,” MP Amir al-Kanani, a leading member of the Shiite Muslim Sadrist movement, told NIQASH.

During the last two governments, both led by al-Maliki, there was no such law. Cabinet ministers didn't know where their powers began or ended and they would often seek permission from al-Maliki before making any decisions. The lack of such a law also meant that it wasn't clear when the government became illegitimate.

For example, around a third of Iraq's Ministers withdrew from the al-Maliki-led Cabinet last year – yet al-Maliki continued to govern the country. Additionally he would just appoint replacements for the ministers who withdrew from within his group of friends and allies. If that happened in any other country, there would be a call for early elections.

And it was not only Iraq's Kurdish MPs or it's Sunni Muslim MPs who were left out in the cold by al-Maliki's style of leadership. Shiite Muslim MPs from the biggest groups supporting al-Maliki were also deprived of any decision-making powers, especially if they had criticised al-Maliki.

In order to avoid a repeat of this, Shiite Muslim MPs in the so-called National Alliance, are looking at coming up with internal bylaws and a steering committee.

The major Shiite Muslim parties want to form a steering committee that includes a representative from each party, National Alliance MPs told NIQASH. The committee's task is to monitor al-Abadi's performance and to get him to consult with the alliance before making major decisions.

The Shiite Muslim alliance also agreed that no prime minister should be allowed to stay on longer than two terms in office. Additionally any cabinet minister from the National Alliance who isn't doing their job well should be replaced.

While these steps may seem positive to many, an informal survey of the MPs in Iraq's new government yielded a lot of pessimism. Many believe that this new government is going to spend most of its term trying to correct al-Maliki's power-mongering and mistakes – among these, the most prominent one being the fact that Sunni Muslim extremists from the Islamic State group are still in charge of large parts of the country.